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Capital Buzz/ Virendra Kapoor

Flashback to a Gujralian goof

"I will do it," announced Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral bravely, "Never mind I can't read Hindi properly. I will write the speech in Urdu and read it out."

The time was sometime in the Independence week, the place Speaker Purno A Sangma's cosy chamber, and the occasion a meeting to finalise the programmes for the special Parliamentary session on Independence night.

The meeting was discussing who would read out the Hindi translation of President K R Narayanan's speech. Normally, it was the vice-president's privilege; and in his abseence, the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson's. But for the obvious reason -- looong footage on the national television, silly! -- Gujral wanted the job for himself.

So a well-coached Parliamentary Affairs Minister Srikant Jena stood up and suggested the PM's name. An equally well-coached Railways Minister Ram Vilas Paswan seconded it.

To say the rest of the participants were taken back would be an understatement. "But the PM will be terribly uncomfortable reading such a long speech in Urdu," a leader protested.

Gujral placed his specs firmly on his nose and glared him down. What, lose such a golden television-opportunity just because he couldn't read Hindi? What would people think of him?

"I will write the whole speech in Urdu. I can read Urdu well," he repeated firmly.

Realising Gujral's desperation for publicity -- isn't he the same diplomat who, in his 100 days of PMship, has given more interviews than his three predecessors could manage in six whole years? -- backed down hurriedly. If the great man wanted to make a fool of himself, they thought, well, let him make one!

And so he did, fumbling on all crucial words -- for instance, mahila (woman) came out as maila (dirty) -- and making a thorough job of hashing Narayanan's speech!

Publicity, it would appear, cometh before fall.

Boothryod in his bonnet

Like the prime minister who was determined to turn the focus of the I Day on himself, Sangma, too, had a one-point agenda: He was dying to bestow Betty Boothryod, the British House of Commons speaker, the attention worthy of a visiting potentate.

And his way of respecting Boothryod was to get her to address the special Parliament session. Senior MPs, naturally, found the suggestion preposterous. (Indeed, her very presence at the historic occasion was considered inappropriate.)

But Sangma is a determined man. Despite the disapproving looks and words from senior MPs, he continued bullying them to let Boothryod be 'respected.' Finally, realising that this was a nothing-doing matter with the rest, he settled for the second best option: If Boothryod couldn't address the occasion, he said, the least India could do for her was to seat her on the dais with the President, the prime minister and the presiding officers of the two Houses.

Members did not press their opposition to this, but lest anyone read too much into her sharing the dais with the great Indians, two more chairs were brought in, and Home Minister Indrajit Gupta and Human Resource Development Minister S R Bommai made to occupy those.

It is another matter that throughout the proceedings Gupta had a tough time staying awake.

Wooing Sonia

Back in the Congress party after three years of political wilderness, Arjun Singh can't keep still. The reason, as usual, is the same: power is what the wily Thakur wants, for which he would do anything.

The first thing on his agenda is to establish proximity with Sonia Gandhi (never mind her husband called him 'slippery and slimy'). For this, he had embarrassed the former P V Narasimha Rao government by periodically accusing it of doing precious little to unearth the conspiracy behind Rajiv Gandhi's assassination.

Now, he has revived the practice. No sooner had he become a Congress Working Committee member, Singh dashed off a long letter to party chief Sitaram Kesri, demanding he pressurise Gujral to nail the 'real killers.' Singh has also taken to writing directly to Gujral airing his antiquated views on multinationals and sundry other issues.

Anything goes for Arjun Singh, as long as he gets paid in the coin of power!

In a compromising position

Gujral couldn't have done better, was he trying to follow in Charlie Chaplin's footsteps.

Whatever, he has managed to keep the Indian public immensely entertained with his recent call for satyagraha against corruption. While Gujral rails against corruption in public, it would appear he is practicing it in private. His refusal to drop Rashtriya Janata Dal members from his ministry is cited as proof of this.

The biggest blow to Gujral's prestige, however, is the hush-hush talk in political circles about his instructing then Central Bureau of Investigation director Joginder Singh to soft-pedal the fodder investigation. And when Singh refused to oblige, the story goes, he was summarily transferred.

Following Gujral's anti-corruption cry, Singh, sources say, has been hinting right and left that he is in a position to prove the PM is more than willing to compromise with corruption.

The impending Singh-bombshell, which we hope to see shortly, is bound to embarrass Gujral.

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