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Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Two Aiyars, one Chettiar

P Chidambaram Federal Finance Minister P Chidambaram has always been sensitive about his public image. Given his wide contacts with the newspaper barons and his excellent academic background, he invariably gets good press.

But, of late, he has been worried about the mounting criticism resulting from the sharp downturn in the economy. What really nettled him, though, is the accusation that he is softpedalling the Indian Bank scam. Since leading Tamil Maanila Congress members are beneficiaries of the largesse distributed by the bank, which declared losses of over Rs 13 billion last year, Chidambaram finds it hard to shake off the charge.

Adding to his woes are two articulate and equally well-educated Tamilians - namely Subramanian Swamy of the Janata Party and Mani Shankar Aiyar of the Congress. They are using the Indian Bank scam to rip Chidambaram's reputation apart.

The two Aiyars do not have much in common. Nor do they get along with each other but, in Chidambaram, they have found a common target. No wonder the Chettiar leader is running scared.

A few days ago, his office issued a circular asking finance ministry officials to direct any query from the prime minister's office to the finance minister's notice within 24 hours. The directive applies even to telephonic messages from the PMO.

This has, no doubt, has made the task of senior finance ministry officials cumbersome for, on a routine working day, the PMO contacts them for all manner of things on the restricted official telephone exchange.

TMC leaders suspect that the AIADMK supremo, J Jayalalitha, is exploiting her old connections with Prime Minister Deve Gowda's sons to get at Chidambaram and his leader G K Moopanar. And that the Indian Bank scam has come handy for them to put the TMC down.

Meanwhile, a senior official inducted into the finance ministry is informally monitoring adverse media reports against Chidambaram.

A very correct judge

Supreme Court Justice Kuldip Singh, who retired on the last day of 1996, took only one day to vacate his official bungalow in the capital. The `green judge', who took judicial activism to new heights in the larger interest of the people, did not want to avail of even the one-month grace period customarily allowed to the occupants of official houses.

He left for Chandigarh determined to set new norms for retired judges. He would do neither chamber practice nor arbitration work. Both these are big sources of income for retired high court and Supreme Court judges.

However, in the country-wide seminar and Rotary Club circuit, Justice Kuldip Singh may well pose a big challenge to that old favourite, retired chief election commissioner T N Seshan. Who, in the meanwhile, is considering canvassing for friendly politicians' support in his attempt to become the next vice-president of India.

Gupta's objective test

Indrajit Gupta Federal Home Minister Indrajit Gupta shows all the signs of advanced age. He is easily irritable, dozes off amidst earth-shaking discussions and often has difficulty remembering names of senior bureaucrats. But, nonetheless, he has not lost any of his passion for political rectitude. He is blunt, to the point of being rude, with hangers-on and lobbyists seeking favours.

The other day someone approached him, canvassing for governorship for a retired bureaucrat. Gupta put him through his usual test in these matters. The interlocutor was asked to answer the three questions - whether the gubernatorial aspirant had ever been close to the controversial godman Chandra Swami; whether he was close to former prime minister Narasimha Rao; and whether he enjoyed a reputation for financial honesty.

The candidate failed the test because at one time he was known to be pretty close to the Congress leaders.

Keeping Doordarshan door

Even hardcore socialists accord the public sector step-motherly treatment.

For example, the avowed claim of the ruling United Front government is to strengthen the state-owned Doordarshan so that it can repulse the challenge of the myriad private foreign and Indian-owned satellite television channels. But, at a pinch, the UF ministers would rather bestow a favour on private channels than on Doordarshan. Their logic being that they need to win over the private channels whereas the state-owned Doordarshan can always be ordered to do their bidding.

Thus, when Railway Minister Ram Vilas Paswan flew to Assam the other day to visit the site of the Brahmaputra Mail blast, he shooed off the Doordarshan crew and, instead, selected the camera teams of two private television software production houses to fly with him gratis in the special aircraft.

Ram Vilas Paswan One does the high profile news programme for a Hong Kong-based satellite channel, whereas the other hawks footage to whoever pays it the highest price, including Doordarshan. The latter's owner, incidentally, has a matrimonial connection with a former information officer of the government of India and, therefore, manages to get vintage slots on all such newsworthy occasions, courtesy the official media.

Earlier, when two commercial aircraft collided over Dadri in Haryana, Minister for Civil Aviation C M Ibrahim refused to take the Doordarshan crew with him. This, when he doubles as the information and broadcasting minister and is, in that position, committed to blunt the challenge of the foreign satellite channels. The other private software trading house piggybacked on the plane of no other than the prime minister himself.

So much for the UF's commitment to defend and strengthen Doordarshan.

Posted in London, seen in Delhi

India's high profile high commissioner in London, L M Singhvi, knows how to keep everyone happy.

Appointed by the short-lived Chandra Shekhar government, he has survived three regimes since then and is firmly ensconced in his job even after his regular tenure came to end some time ago.

Singhvi now aspires to be the consensus candidate for the vice-president's office. Considering the red carpet that he rolls out for all Indian VIPs visiting London, it should not come as a surprise if he gets the support of senior politicians cutting across party lines. He was in the capital recently and met a clutch of senior politicians.

Indeed, some are beginning to question the reason for his frequent trips to New Delhi. No other serving high commissioner in London has visited India as often as Singhvi has in recent years. Who picks up the tab and why?


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