Praise me, condemn me, but do not ignore me. Given that the ruling Congress party has a whole army of office-bearers, including more than half a dozen general secretaries and some one score secretaries, a vast majority of Indians would find it hard to name even a couple of them.
But you can bet that they will readily recall the name of one general secretary: Digvijay Singh. Fame and notoriety being two sides of the same coin for the present-day politicians, Singh would not mind being abused by the 'aam aadmi' so long as he enjoys a fair recall value.
So, you have to admit, that every time Digvijay Singh opens his mouth, and there is stink all around him, he still achieves his objective. This way he has perfected a strategy to remain in the news. Not unlike the man who bites the dog and thus makes headlines, the Congress general secretary always ruffles feathers to hog the limelight. From Singh's point of view, he is doing fine.
Thus, when the two-term Madhya Pradesh chief minister extends the courtesy of a 'jee' to Al Qaeda boss Osama bin Laden, he makes news. Now, it is de rigueur for all Congressmen, young or old, to suffix the first names of only the Congress president and the presumptive prime minister-in-waiting with the very respectful 'jee'.
But because he believes that Muslim voters, -- yes, voters, for he knows no other category of Muslims -- were angry at the perfidious American action against 'Osamajee', he must accord him the same respect that he ordinarily reserves for the Gandhis.
Diggy Raja was also careful not to forget to lodge a strong protest against the alleged disrespect shown to 'Osamajee' when the Americans disposed of his body in the sea. The Congress leader was solicitous that Osama bin Laden's last rites ought to have been performed as per regular Islamic customs.
Really touching, this concern for according decency and respect to an evil man who had fanned the fires of global terrorism and vowed to free Kashmir from the 'infidel Hindus'. After such a verbal feat, who would question Diggy Raja's secular credentials?
Besides, one has to admire the best-known Congress general secretary for having the courage of his convictions. Not only does he defend secularism with words, he can as easily resort to fist fights for the defence of the higher ideals so very dear to him.
Not being a sissy, nor a Gandhian, nor, for that matter, a believer in the old-fashioned etiquette that bars gentlemen to settle an argument with the use of fists, Diggy Raja most valiantly took it upon himself to punch and kick the Baba Ramdev fan who had flashed a shoe at party spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi.
The shoe-flasher had already been pummeled by the self-avowed warriors of the Fourth Estate when Singh kicked and punched the fellow, who, mind you, had broken no provision in the Indian Penal Code. But then Singh as the party general secretary has the divine right not only to use his tongue as a weapon of assault, but his hands and legs too in the best way he deems fit to defend and strengthen the secular order.
There was nothing to stop the self-styled secularist warrior from standing up for his ideals. He trekked all the way to Azamgarh, according to the police a breeding ground of home-grown terrorists, and supped with some who condemned this country and its police forces. Diggy Raja dubbed the killing of terrorists in Delhi's Batla House as cold-blooded murders and sought a judicial probe.
Since the government would not concede his demand, he allowed the whole world to know that he and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram were not on the best of terms. How can he be on friendly terms with a home minister whose 'police harasses and slaps false cases against innocent Muslim boys?' Diggy Raja, you see, is consistent in the defence of secularist values!
Mercifully, Singh was back doing what he does best, that is, shooting off his mouth, within hours of the latest in the seemingly unending series of blasts in Mumbai. He suggested that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh could well be behind these blasts and commended to Chidambaram that investigations explore the RSS angle.
Why not? The single-minded general secretary was determined not to allow common sense, and even stark facts, come in the way of his wooing of the Muslim voter.
After all, as the party in charge of Uttar Pradesh, he is desperate to win a respectful number of seats in the UP assembly poll next year so that Rahuljee can earn the leadership spurs and become the PM and install him as the country's home minister.
Do not forget his ten-year voluntary abnegation of ministerial power too would, coincidentally, end next year. If all goes as per his plan, UP Chief Minister Mayawati would meet her come-uppance at the hands of Rahuljee and his able chief-of-staff, Digvijay Singh.
Given that the Muslim vote is crucial for the Congress to do well in UP, Singh is unlikely to leave any stone unturned by the time polls take place next year. So, the Sangh Parivar should get itself abuse-proof armour because Diggy Raja is bound to step up his verbal assault in the coming days and weeks.
He might think that taking a leaf out of the book of the late secularist warriors like Arjun Singh and Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna would endear him to the Muslim voters, but the ploy is bound to fail as the community continues to be as backward as it was 60 years ago.
And he does not realise that by playing the same old card, he insults the entire community. Congress tokenism -- for proof, read the Sachar Committee report -- is a main cause of the socio-economic backwardness of the minorities. By abusing the RSS day in and day out, Digvijay Singh insults the Muslims far more than he insults the RSS.
He does not seek to hoodwink the RSS. His target is the Muslim voter. After more than six decades, bash-the-RSS-and-get- the-Muslim-vote ploy is beginning to yield diminishing returns. It does not yield en masse Muslim votes. It yields public ridicule.
Hopefully, after the UP elections, he will return to being his normal self.
Imposing a new aide on the PM
Pulok Chatterjee's appointment as principal secretary to the prime minister will further erode Manmohan Singh's authority. Whatever his other failings, T K Nair was loyal to the PM.
Singh had appointed Nair his principal secretary on the recommendation of an old Chandigarh acquaintance. A Punjab cadre IAS officer, Nair did not have any connection, direct or indirect, with the Gandhi family. Therefore, he had no reason to betray the trust Singh had reposed in him.
Chatterjee knows he owes his all-powerful job to the Gandhis and can be relied upon by the latter to do their bidding, even behind the prime minister's back. As it is, Singh is hard put to counter the widely held impression that he is only the de jure prime minister while de facto power wrests with Sonia Gandhi.
Chatterjee's imposition as the PM's principal secretary is bound to make Singh's task far more difficult to play his own boss.
Lawyers and politics
Politicians with law degrees are fortunate. Even if they have little or no practice, there is no shortage of private parties keen to offer them fat retainers, if for nothing else than to exploit their connections for various favours.
Indeed, quite a few lawyers in the current Parliament seem to be doing exceedingly well, though not all are considered professionally successful by their peers.
Among them is a particularly aggressive lawyer who can be seen nightly on television. Regular lawyers rarely see him argue cases in the high court or the Supreme Court, but our television warrior gives the impression as if his hands are so full with legal briefs that he routinely turns away a large number of them.
Baru and Khare
Sanjaya Baru may be doing a much better job of marketing Manmohan Singh as the editor of a business daily than he had done as the prime minister's media adviser in UPA-I. Indeed, so thorough is Baru's performance in 'selling' the PM as a journalist that Harish Khare, the incumbent media adviser, seems to be a non-starter in his new assignment.