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Virender Kapoor | July 09, 2004
Now that Captain Satish Sharma has re-entered Parliament, albeit as a member of the Rajya Sabha from Uttaranchal after failing to win the Sultanpur Lok Sabha seat in the May 2004 general election, everyone seems to have taken it for granted that he will replace Mani Shankar Aiyar as the Union minister for petroleum and natural gas.
But will he, indeed?
Those who know Prime Minister Manmohan Singh believe that Sharma may not find it easy to get his old ministry back even though, thanks to his proximity to 10 Janpath, he may have to be inducted into government sooner rather than later.
Contrary to impression, Aiyar's substantive charge is the petroleum ministry. True, he has also been entrusted with the department of panchayati affairs, but this continues to be part of the rural development ministry, which is under Raghubansh Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
So far Raghubansh Babu has successfully resisted the transfer of a slew of departments from his charge to form a composite panchayati raj ministry on the ground that it would leave him with very little to do in rural development.
Admittedly, Aiyar as a key aide of the late Rajiv Gandhi was the inspiration behind the panchayati raj legislation, but it is unlikely that he will like to handle a 'moth-eaten' panchayati raj department without substantive powers to implement his model of delivering rural bliss.
On the other hand, Prasad's reluctance to part with any of the departments under his charge cannot be easily ignored, given that he is the chief lieutenant of RJD president and Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. Besides, Prasad, a college professor by profession, is one of the few RJD ministers who is not embroiled in any scam.
Sharma on the other hand is still being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate for having allegedly laundered wealth through relatives based in the United States. A couple of years ago, a leading English daily reported how Sharma had allegedly used his brother, who is based in the US, to route a tranche of hawala funds as a gift to him.
Following preliminary investigations, the ED was all set at one stage to slap a penalty on Sharma, but the matter has since been relegated to the back burner owing to the unexpected return to power of the Congress at the head of the United Progressive Alliance. The investigation is yet to be officially closed.
With the UPA government already on the back foot owing to the controversy over 'tainted' ministers, it is unlikely that the PM will invite more trouble by replacing Aiyar, a pugnacious politician with a deserved reputation for financial probity, with Sharma, whose only claim to fame is that he used to be a flying buddy of Rajiv Gandhi.
Giggling away to Ayodhya
At a recent dinner in the capital held to felicitate gentleman cricketer Rahul Dravid upon being awarded the Padma Shri, the new power elite and Page 3 socialites mingled freely. Lalu Yadav held court in one corner of the lawn as guests arrived and went up to him to say hello even as cameras clicked for the next day's Page 3 pictures in the local dailies.
As Yadav sat chatting with his ministerial colleagues, including Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal and Minister of State for Company Affairs Prem Chand Gupta, the host conducted a very giggly Delhi socialite, Nafisa Ali, to Yadav's table.
Sitting herself down next to Yadav, the beaming Ali asked, "Laluji, will you be in Patna on July 5?"
"No, how can I be in Patna that day?" Lalu muttered. When she asked why, he responded, "Arrey bhai, Railway Budget pesh karna hai Parliament mein hum ko [I have to present the Railway Budget in Parliament that day]."
"Parr tum Patna kyon ja rahi ho?" he asked, suddenly curious. To which, in all innocence, Ali responded: "Oh, maine maan rakha tha ki jab BJP power se hategi to mein Ayodhya jaoongi. Is liye mujhe Patna toh jana hi padega. [I had taken a vow that when the BJP is ousted from power, I will visit Ayodhya.]"
This caused the two other ministers sitting with Lalu Prasad to pipe up in unison, "Patna Ayodhya ke raaste mein thode hi hai! Ayodhya UP mein hai, Bihar mein nahin! [You do not have to go to Patna to reach Ayodhya. Ayodhya is in UP, not Bihar.]"
The unflappable Nafisa gave her best smile, muttered "Achcha?", and giggled her way to another corner of the lawn where like-minded Page 3 celebrities were debating the finer points of the latest eatery in town.
Ali was the Congress party's candidate in the Lok Sabha election against Nationalist Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee in South Calcutta. It was a surprise that she saved her deposit, though just about.
Surjeet to the rescue
The Leftists have never had it so good.
For the first time in many years, the Communists are exercising power in New Delhi without having to be accountable for their actions.
CPI-M General Secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet might spout Hegelian dialectics at the drop of a hat, but he remains the quintessential power broker, enjoying immense clout in Manmohan Singh's government.
Invariably, most favour-seekers beat a track to Surjeet's door. And rarely does he disappoint them.
Take the case of the Super Bazaar in the capital. Following enormous losses on account of rampant pilferage, corruption, and irresponsible trade unionism, the previous government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee had closed down the government-run department store, but not before ordering the payment of handsome compensation to its nearly 2,000 employees.
Now, with the Leftists having strong leverage in the ruling coalition, former employees of Super Bazaar have enlisted Surjeet's support to demand its revival.
Surjeet in turn has shot off a letter to Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, asking that the 'wrongful closure' of Super Bazaar be undone and all its former employees be reinstated.
Pawar is yet to act on the Marxist leader's demand
An editor gets his freedom
Large sections of the Indian media have an incestuous relationship with politicians. Each uses the other for personal gain.
Thus it was that when a leading newspaper owner paid a courtesy call on Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and mentioned in passing that a family-owned factory was finding it difficult to get wagons to haul its goods, Yadav was quick to order his officials to rectify the situation.
But Yadav was quick to demand his pound of flesh. And that was the removal of the resident editor of the Patna edition of the newspaper.
Wonder why? Simple. Because the worthy had dared to be critical of the doings of the Rashtriya Janata Dal government and its leaders in Bihar.
The poor editor lost his job immediately, but his erstwhile employer did get the required number of railway wagons.
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh