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Virender Kapoor | July 28, 2004
Senior BJP leaders are still not reconciled to the loss of power, and keep clutching at every straw in the wind to convince themselves that they will be back in the ministerial chairs soon.
If one day they latch on to the prediction of celebrated astrologer Lachhman Das Madan, who has asserted that the Manmohan Singh government will fall by the end of September, and that their -- the BJP's -- fortunes will change for the better, another day it is the standoff between the Communists and the government over the hike in foreign direct investment caps in the insurance, civil aviation, and telecom sectors that gives them hope of staging a comeback.
Since they are persuaded that the UPA government will not last more than a few months, a whiff of differences within the ruling combine or the continuing embarrassment on account of the baggage of tainted ministers that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must necessarily carry on his shoulders for keeping the alliance intact is enough to send their adrenaline flowing.
The latest reason which seems to have further buttressed their belief that the days of the Singh government are indeed numbered is the belated realisation in the higher echelons of the BJP that no non-Brahmin prime minister has completed his full five-year term in office.
Only Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, P V Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, all Brahmins, were able to complete their full terms.
Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar, V P Singh, H D Deve Gowda, Inder Kumar Gujral et al were obliged to demit office much before the end of the normal term.
The present incumbent in the prime ministerial office being a Sikh, the BJP leadership reckons that he too will fall by the wayside before long. And that his place will rightfully go to their Brahmin icon, Vajpayee, who, it may be recalled, had made bold to serve notice on the UPA government right at its inception that he 'was not ready to sit in the Opposition for five long years.'
As an aside, it might be noted that if no non-Brahmin PM could finish his full five-year term in office, then no Muslim head of the Republic has been able to complete his full tenure in Rashtrapati Bhavan either. If you believe in coincidences of the kind senior BJP leaders are prone to rake up for their benefit, you would think the days of the UPA government are indeed numbered.
The English language press is so snooty that it hardly takes notice of the concerns and contents of the regional language press. A case in point is the controversy about a list of columnists/writers banned by various publications brought out by a north India-based business house with multifarious interests.
A Hindi daily the other day reproduced prominently on its front page a photocopy of the circular issued by the group editor of the said publication to various department heads, listing the names of 16 journalists and writers, including Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy, who were to be banned from all titles brought out by the business group.
The next day in the Rajya Sabha, CPI-M member Sarla Maheshwari raised the issue of the 'arbitrary pre-censorship' by the said publication, arguing that it militates against the principles of a free press.
A member or two did try to defend the said publication, but it was clear that the silent majority did not deem the unqualified censorship a healthy development for the media. The upshot of this was that the promoter of the business house lost no time in divesting the group editor of his publications of his editorial responsibilities.
Last heard, they were trying to find him some other job within the vast and diverse business house.
A capital politician
Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Punjab's deputy chief minister and minister for higher education, spends so much time in Delhi that you would think she has shifted base to the national capital.
A perennial dissident who covets Chief Minister Amarinder Singh's job, Bhattal logs more time in Delhi lobbying various Congress party bigwigs rather than paying attention to the not-so-insignificant charge of higher and technical education in her state.
Invariably, when Parliament is in session, Bhattal and her group of loyal Punjab Congressmen pitch their tent in the Central Hall and are seen ingratiating themselves with senior Congress office-bearers, notably powerful General Secretary Ambika Soni and Mohsina Kidwai, who was till recently in charge of Congress affairs in the state till Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee was asked to take over following the inter-state crisis over the sharing of river waters.
Kidwai still holds court in a corner with Bhattal and other supplicant Congress leaders taking turns to speak to her about their concerns, which inevitably relate to self-promotion masked as the greater good of the party and the country.
The kulhad stuns again
Now if you are sick and tired of reading about those kulhads, the introduction of which has been Lalu Prasad Yadav's single most important contribution ever since he took over as railway minister two months ago, we fully sympathise with you.
But the truth is that those lowly mud cups have been the cause of much mirth as well as consternation in high places. Therefore, we cannot help but take note of talk revolving around them. So, here is the latest episode in our kulhad series.
It seems Defence Minister Mukherjee, while in his office in Parliament House at lunchtime, ordered chicken soup. And a few minutes later was aghast to find the railway canteen bearer fetch the liquid in a steel jug for being served in -- what else? -- kulhads.
A very surprised Mukherjee wasn't feeling earthy enough to savour his soup from those mud cups. And lost no time in ordering the bearer to take the soup back while muttering loudly that he wasn't about to drink soup from a kulhad.
It is, however, anyone's guess whether the railway canteen, which runs the hugely subsidised catering service in the Parliament House complex, reintroduced bone china cups for soups after Pranabda's refusal to drink it from kulhads or whether it was the effect of a collective turning up of the nose at the very sight of these half-baked and clumsily shaped earthen pots that led to the removal of kulhads from the soup service.
A surprise in the picture
They sure are rewriting the rules of official conduct, aren't they?
First, Prime Minister Singh infringed propriety in delegating his power to his boss, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, to make the disbursement from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund for the victims of the Kumbakonam school fire which consumed 90 young lives and left several more badly injured.
A few days later, the retiring Rajya Sabha members who had gathered for the customary group photo in Parliament House were aghast to see Sonia Gandhi among them.
Since she is neither a member of the Rajya Sabha nor holds any position in government, nor, for that matter, is she leader of the Opposition, it was not clear in what capacity she was being included. But the buzz was that sycophantic Congressmen had insisted on her being included in the group photograph.
The breach of established norms led at least one BJP member, the ebullient S S Ahluwalia, a former Congressman, to stay away from this photograph of record. Customarily, all members of the Rajya Sabha, serving and retiring, along with the prime minister and other ministers, assemble for a group photograph every two years when one-third of the members of the Upper House retire.
Photographs: Manmohan Singh by PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images; Arundhati Roy by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images; Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sonia Gandhi by RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images