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Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

A most murky scandal

Congress leader Rajesh Pilot does not have much following in the party or outside but he certainly has his nuisance value. Following the recent fiasco of his much-hyped challenge to Sitaram Kesri for the leadership of the Congress Parliamentary Party, he was, as widely expected, sidelined by the party chief. And ever since, Pilot has been devising ways to hit back at the party boss.

What better way to embarrass the leadership than to rake up an old case about the murder of a young government doctor known to be rather close to both Kesri and party general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad. Pilot has written a letter to the prime minister seeking an investigation into the mysterious killing of the doctor way back in 1993.

Posted last in the Central Government Health Scheme dispensary in Pandara Road in the heart of Lutyen's Delhi, the doctor's mutilated body was found outside the house of a young nurse attached to the dispensary.

Pilot's letter to H D Deve Gowda hints at the possibility of influential people wanting to suppress the investigation. A Hindi language newspaper alleged recently that the doctor was running a call girl racket patronised by some of his influential patients to whom he also administered pep-me-up injections at regular intervals.

After his death, the doctor's widow was allowed to retain the government house thanks to the intervention of influential politicians. Her name was excluded from the list furnished to the Supreme Court of allottees of government houses out of then housing minister Shiela Kaul's discretionary quota.

The scandal would have gone unnoticed but for Pilot's belated interest in the case.

One more tell-tale diary

Why do people keep tell-tale diaries? Why do those who handle illicit funds feel the need to record each and every paisa they give or take? The infamous Jain hawala diaries have played havoc with the Indian polity. Martin Ardbo, who negotiated the Bofors deal with India, had his own diary in which in encrypted from figured 'RG' and 'AN'. Whether or not 'RG' or 'AN' took bribes was not the issue. The mere mention in Ardbo's diaries was enough to cause suspicion.

More recently, former telecom minister Sukh Ram left evidence of his murk dealing in his own hand. The CBI found his diary with such entries as '37L' against the name of someone simply listed by his initials. No one bought Sukh Ram's plea that '37L' was a reference to the number of litres of milk he got from his farm house. It was instead an entry for Rs 3.7 million he had paid to his businessman friend for investment.

Now the latest to turn up with an incriminating diary is another former minister in the Rao government. Recent raids on the house of S Krishna Kumar, the IAS officer-turned-politician, in the capital and his home state, Kerala, have yielded a diary maintained by his wife, Usha. It lists the amounts of money paid by Usha, who had unsuccessfully contested the election to the Delhi assembly two years ago, to various people.

s Her diary has spelt trouble not for her alone. The income tax department has dashed off letters to those listed as recipients of large sums in her diary to explain whether or not they had accounted for the moolah in their tax returns. Some are furiously having to cook up their books to adjust the vast sums they received from the former minister's wife.

Strange bedfellows

Politics, it is said, makes strange bedfellows. But while politics may keep people apart, commercial interests can make them sup together. The case in point is the long-pending Tata Singapore Airlines proposal to set up a domestic airline in India.

When first made, Ghulam Nabi Azad, then civil aviation minister, had put it on the back burner at the behest of his friends in the now defunct East-West Airlines and other private domestic carriers.

Now Civil Aviation Minister Chand Mahal Ibrahim has done the same. And in blocking the Tata-SIA airline he is being ably supported not only by Azad but not-so-surprisingly by Pramod Mahajan, the high-profile general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Mahajan, the self-confessed champion of Hindutva and Swadeshi, has no problem if his favourite domestic airline, Jet Airways, continues to have 40 per cent foreign equity -- 20 per cent each for Gulf Air and Kuwait Airways - but he along with Azad and Ibrahim cannot bear India's premier industrial house, the Tatas, floating a new airline with only 40 per cent equity from Singapore Airlines.

Such ministerial caprice in policy matters is what makes foreigners wary of doing business in India.

Iftar sweepstakes

Come Ramzan and a furious competition begins among the secularists in the capital to host grand and still more grand iftar parties. Almost every day, for a month, several hundred people are fed the choicest Mughlai delicacies by assorted VIPs in their sprawling official bungalows.

The other day, a Calcutta newspaper graded these parties. Prime Minister Deve Gowda, the paper announced, was a clear winner in the iftar sweepstakes. 'Deve Gowda served excellent food, was the perfect host, and mingled with each guest,, gushed the newspaper's iftar party correspondent.

No one clearly wants to sour the festive mood by inquiring as to who picks up the bill for these sumptuous feasts.

Not to be left behind in proving his secular credentials, Bihar's beleaguered Chief Minister and Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav threw an iftar party in the capital. But one man he did not invite was Central Bureau of Investigation Director Joginder Singh, a regular on the iftar circuit.

Yadav had students of the Jamia Millia university fetched in six deluxe buses for partaking in his iftar feast. When some of the students insisted on getting Yadav's autograph, the Bihar chief minister, who is being investigated for his role in the Rs 10 billion animal husbandry scam, said,"Photo to theek hain, autograph theek nahin hain. Aj kal CBI mere dastakhat key peechey paddi hain (To be photographed with me is okay but taking my autographs is not because the CBI is looking for my signatures in the documents in the animal husbandry scam."

Incidentally, the mood at these parties is far from religious. While the faithful said their namaz in a corner at Yadav's iftar party, unmindful of them, loud merriment and animated political discussions continued elsewhere.

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