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Virender Kapoor | May 31, 2005

It is not certain if the ministers in charge of the four most important portfolios -- defence, home, finance and human resource development -- will be disturbed in the forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle.

Though last month this column had taken note of the loud thinking in Congress circles about moving P Chidambaram to home, since the present incumbent Shivraj Patil remains a huge embarrassment, Sonia Gandhi's advisers seem unenthusiastic about the move.

They do not doubt that Chidambaram would do a better job than Patil. But they fear that Chidambaram, being an exceedingly intelligent man, would not do their bidding, and that he would not be amenable to their demands and pressures.

A slew of Congressmen claiming to speak on behalf of Sonia have no difficulty getting their way in the Patil-led home ministry but are unable to order Chidambaram around in finance.

The finance minister is probably the only senior Congress member of the Singh Cabinet who does not pay jee hazoori at the durbar in 10, Janpath -- Sonia's official home.

For such a man to be made home minister would constitute a great setback to Congress power brokers who routinely throw their weight around in the name of the almighty party president.

Congress rediscovers Mr Clean

Former Kerala chief minister and senior Congress leader A K Antony did not figure in the Pradesh Congress Committee's list of names for nomination to the Rajya Sabha.

But the Congress high command paid no heed to the PCC recommendation and named Antony to fill the Rajya Sabha vacancy caused by the resignation of the rebel party leader K Karunakaran.

The two misfits

At long last, the Congress leadership has realised the importance of Antony, probably the cleanest Congressman who can teach a thing or two even to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in upholding ideological and organisational integrity.

Now that Karunakaran has formed his Congress in Kerala and is bound to cut into the party's base, the Congress high command has per force fallen back on the real Mr Clean to bail it out of the mess in which it finds itself in the state.

Antony is the Congress's best bet to lead the campaign in next year's election to the state assembly. Therefore, it was decided that not only should he be brought into the Rajya Sabha but also made a Cabinet minister. Antony's added ministerial appeal, the party reckons, could be exploited in the coming election.

So when the prime minister reshuffles his team sometime next month, one name you can be 100 percent certain of finding in the list of new inductees will be that of Antony.

Personal over personnel

A salacious story doing the rounds in the corridors of power pertains to the travails of a young IAS couple who find their attempt to have their cadre changed stalled at the very last hurdle.

Belonging to the 2003 batch of the IAS, the two decided to get married after she was allotted Sikkim and he Manipur. Since their marriage entitled them to be allotted same cadre, the department of personnel -- which is the cadre management authority -- allotted them Chhattisgarh.

But a middle-level officer holding a crucial post is sitting on the file. Reason: He seems to have had a crush on the lady when they were at the civil services academy in Mussoorie, but she had spurned her advances.

Now, the jilted lover is allegedly wreaking his revenge, if you believe the story bureaucrats relate with some relish.

How to be a talking head

Every now and then, the Bharatiya Janata Party holds internal workshops for handpicked leaders from various state units to teach them how to handle the media.

Media-savvy leaders such as Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan and Mukhtaar Abbas Naqvi address the 'class' of 50-odd party spokesmen from the state units. The initial spadework is done by journalists-turned-politicians Dinanath Mishra and Balbir Punj.

At the recent media relations tutorial at the party's Ashoka Road headquarters, Swaraj, Jaitley and a couple of other high-profile leaders taught their 'students' the finer points of the art of handling the media.


There were some red faces when someone asked how to respond to a needling question the answer to which, you knew, was bound to prove embarrassing to the party. 


It was left to the legal eagle, Jaitley, to come up with a clever response: "It is not always necessary to answer every question. You skirt around by a diversionary 'will let you know later' or 'let me check on that' or simply laugh it off and ask the next fellow to put his question."


Simple PM, simple food


Culinary tastes of the Prime Minister's Office seem to have changed with the change of regime.


When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in the saddle, catering at official and semi-official gatherings at the sprawling 7, Race Course Road complex was a freewheeling affair, with five star hotels from the Taj and Maurya to Raddison and Hyatt Regency invariably scoring over the State-owned Ashoka. 


But things reverted back to the staid Ashoka Hotel, the crown in the faltering Indian Tourism Development Corporation empire, once Manmohan Singh moved in.


Since he is a man of simple tastes and frugal habits, Dr Singh is not overly concerned as to who caters for his numerous guests when the call of duty demands that he host dinners and lunches for them.


Inevitably, he falls back on the safe and uncontroversial Ashoka  -- a politically correct decision that might endear him to the Marxists for whom privatisation is a swear word. Of course, outside West Bengal, where they are struggling to sell off the terminally ill Great Eastern Hotel after incurring huge losses for several decades.


Come back, dear babus


The prime minister seems to think that enforcing a modicum of discipline in the bureaucracy is a worthwhile endeavour.


The latest from the prime minister -- who has issued more than three dozen circulars regarding personnel matters in the last one year -- is the edict that all government officers working for 15 or more years in various multilateral institutions must return or resign from their parent cadres.


Given that a five-year stint in the UN entitles one to a handsome lifelong pension, not many would mind coming back -- to reclaim due seniority in their respective cadres.


Among them is Ramu Damodaran, the IFS officer who was the all-powerful private secretary to the late P V Narasimha Rao when Rao was foreign minister and prime minister.


All these years, Damodaran had been at the UN headquarters in New York. He is set to return to the ministry of external affairs shortly. So are quite a few others.


Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh  

Capital Buzz

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Number of User Comments: 2

Sub: Chidambaram wont get Home

The one sure reason why Chidambaram wont get home portfolio is that it would be a nightmare for the Leftists whose assets have been revealed ...

Posted by subbaraman

Sub: should chidambaram get home.

Im sure if Mr. Chidambaram is given Home ministry he would set the home right. But I don't see any logic in taking away the ...

Posted by Kartik


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