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Virender Kapoor | May 17, 2005
Having painted themselves into a corner, the National Democratic Alliance leaders waited in vain for a public gesture from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to end the NDA's boycott of the just-concluded Budget session of Parliament.
Even if the prime minister was inclined to bail out the Opposition, senior Congress leaders tied his hands.
The NDA was divided on the boycott. Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal-United and Dinesh Trivedi of the Trinamul Congress, for instance, were against an extended boycott.
Having stayed away for three days following a fresh chargesheet against Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav in the fodder scam, several leaders wanted to end the boycott. Former defence minister George Fernandes overruled them.
Fernandes, the NDA convener, was in no mood to relent. The Congress, while in Opposition, had boycotted him for a very long period. It was now his time to return the compliment.
Bharatiya Janata Party President Lal Kishenchand Advani felt obliged to go along with Fernandes -- if for nothing else than to ensure that he did not rock the NDA boat.
That was why the argument that the boycott was proving counter-productive went unheeded.
When Trivedi voiced his reservations, pro-boycott leaders -- who insisted that the prime minister was bound to make an appeal for them to return to Parliament -- silenced him.
As one NDA leader put it, "The prime minister is certain to call Advaniji and Jaswant Singhji for tea when he gets to know that we have decided to continue the boycott. Once the PM makes that gesture, we would end the boycott."
Singh never called. And for want of that cup of tea, the NDA disrupted the normal functioning of the sanctum sanctorum of Indian democracy.
Lalgudi Vaidhyanathan Saptharishi, a 1969 batch IAS officer of the West Bengal cadre, arranged to be appointed a special observer by the Election Commission, thanks to his good equation with Chief Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy. Both of them are disciples of the Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati.
Saptharishi had been repatriated to his home cadre, West Bengal, but wanted to stay on in the capital.
Krishnamurthy helped him do that when he handpicked him for the special observer's assignment during the last Lok Sabha election. Normally, the Cabinet secretary furnishes a list of names for such appointments by the EC.
When the Kanchi Shankaracharya was in New Delhi a couple of years ago, Saptharishi along with a 1970 batch IAS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre invited fellow officers to 'seek blessings of His Holiness…'
Informed sources say the Kanchi seer spoke to the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, seeking a key post for Saptharishi. Vajpayee ignored the request.
As for the so-called commendation letter from the CEC for his role as special election observer in Bihar -- copies of which Saptharishi distributed to the media -- similar letters had gone out from the CEC's office to all observers at the completion of the poll exercise.
The pro forma 'thank you' letters from the CEC to election observers are now part of the Election Commission routine.
By all accounts, Saptharishi's stratagem to extend his service for nearly three years beyond his date of retirement, which is due at the end of July, has gone awry.
As director general, Council for the Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology, Saptharishi had sought to make the DG's a fixed three-year tenure job.
With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh taking a dim view of his defiance of the code of conduct of service, there seemed little chance of his getting the said sinecure.
A pat from the chair
As leader of the Communist Party of India-Marxist in the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee was known for his booming voice. But as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, he sure knows how to appreciate parliamentary talent.
Milind Deora, the young Congress member from south Mumbai, was pleasantly surprised to get a chit of commendation from Chatterjee as soon as he finished his speech initiating the debate on the Right to Information Bill.
While several ministers and Congress President Sonia Gandhi indicated their approval of the young member's eloquence by thumping their desks, the Speaker scribbled a note congratulating Deora and asking him to participate in debates more often.
Foreign junkets for foreign funds
Since the beginning of the economic liberalisation process back in the early 1990s, it seems to have become compulsory for various state ministers to go abroad, ostensibly to woo foreign investors.
From the then chief minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu -- who had made two trips to the West for bringing dollars to the Marxist wasteland -- to the saffron boss of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, almost all chief ministers of major states have gone on all-expenses-paid foreign tours with the avowed objective of attracting foreign funds.
Firm figures of the funds actually brought in are not made available. On return, every minister speaks of various 'commitments to invest' secured on the tour.
A few days ago, Punjab Finance Minister Surinder Singla left with a team of senior officials for the US and Canada. His target: top-of- the-line information technology firms for setting up production facilities in the border state. Later this month, Singla is set to join his Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, on a similar mission to China.
The chief ministers of Punjab, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh are scheduled to visit China together to experience firsthand the economic strides made by the Communist giant and to 'sell' their respective states to the local hosts.
Sceptics, however, consider these trips as waste of taxpayers' funds.
The reshuffle of the Union ministry seems to have been put off by a couple of weeks on astrological grounds.
It seems the astral configuration would be most auspicious for Sonia Gandhi beginning June 2. Hence the decision to carry out the changing and chopping operation of ministerial heads after that date.
Also, instead of the earlier plan to move around a couple of senior Congress ministers, the exercise this time might rope in even the allies.
The buzz in Congress circles is that a couple of junior members of Parliament might be inducted as deputy ministers.
The names of Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora are being tossed around.
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh