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Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Hail, Karnataka!

H D Deve Gowda During the reign of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Kashmiri pandits occupied the pride of place in New Delhi's officialdom. Plum jobs in the secretariat and in foreign missions were theirs for the asking. Rajiv Gandhi had no special loyalty to the Kashmiri clan, but his Doon school chums occupied key positions in the government.

With P V Narasimha Rao as prime minister, the Andhra cadre officials came into their own, bagging a disproportionately large number of senior jobs in the government. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that it is now Karnataka's turn to rule the roost in the capital's bourgeoning babudom.

Given the fact that the ruling United Front is dominated by regional and casteist groupings, Karnataka's dominance at the cost of other states is only because Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda heads the personnel department. Otherwise, the chieftain of every regional party would root for officers belonging to his state to the exclusion of all others.

But Deve Gowda recently took his preference for all things Karnataka a bit too far when he refused to clear the appointment of three new Supreme Court judges, unless a high court judge with his roots in Karnataka was also promoted to the apex court.

For over six weeks the premier sat on the file for the elevation of the chief justices of the Delhi, Calcutta and Patna high courts to the Supreme Court even as efforts were made to include the name of the chief justice of the Madras high court in the said list. Since the appointment of judges is one area where the executive cannot dictate its terms, the move eventually fell through.

The judge Deve Gowda wanted promoted to the Supreme Court is due to retire in the next couple of days.

Regionalists all

West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu and state Governor K V Raghunatha Reddy are keen on seeing J V R Prasad Rao, a 1967 batch IAS officer, as the next establishment officer to the government of India. But the prime minister is reluctant to oblige them.

Rao, at present resident commissioner of West Bengal in New Delhi, is one of the three contenders for the crucial post. Naturally, the contender belonging to the Karnataka cadre is a front-runner.

The establishment officer to the GOI directly manages the class I all-India services, including the all-important IAS and IPS. He is also ex-officio secretary to the Cabinet appointments committee. Hence, Deve Gowda's reluctance to appoint Rao.

Lobbying for the job however continues. Meanwhile, senior Andhra Pradesh cadre officers are miffed with the Telugu Desam Party's failure to protect their interests. Clearly, they are unhappy that they are no more the favoured ones for hogging key central posts.

Blow against hypocrisy

Purno Sangma Lok Sabha Speaker Purno A Sangma always appears to be full of beans, exuding charm and bon homie all around. And he is no hypocrite, either. Unlike most dignitaries in his position, Sangma recently surprised senior officials in the Lok Sabha secretariat with his insistence that the purchase of liquor for the entertainment of guests, both Indian and foreign, be officially billed as liquor. And not fudged, as the official practice is, by inflating the bill for food and other sundries in order to absorb the cost of liquor.

Sangma makes no bones about the fact that he likes two chhotas before his dinner. And was occasionally given to a little more in convivial company. Nor, for that matter, does Union Home Minister Indrajit Gupta hide his preference for small whisky and soda before his spartan supper every evening.

Prime Minister Deve Gowda, on the other hand, is known to be a strict teetotaller. But his colleague from Karnataka, Minister for Human Resource Development S R Bommai cannot hit the sack before downing two or three Patiala pegs of whisky and soda.

Vanakkam vs Jai Shri Ram

On days when the Lok Sabha is in session, it begins its proceedings at 11 o'clock sharp. Seconds before the clock chimes 11, the house crier loudly shouts, "Maaninya adhayakshji padhar rahe hain (the honourable Speaker is arriving)." And all members present get up to greet the Speaker.

Invariably, the Treasury benches, dominated at that early hour by DMK and TDP members - lungiwalas, as Finance Minister P Chidambaram proudly described them, who had replaced the dhotiwalas from the north - greet a smiling Purno Sangma with "Vanakkam". In sharp contrast, the large BJP group on the Opposition benches shouts "Jai Shri Ram" before curtsying to the Speaker and sitting down.

Sometime ago, the veteran member of the Lok Sabha, Nirmal Chatterjee, could not help articulate his predicament. Rising on a point of order, he asked the Speaker, "What is this, sir, everyday they say something and the BJP members say 'Jai Shri Ram'. Please tell us how members of the Left Front are supposed to greet you..."

Ever since the DMK members told Nirmalda that vanakkam meant 'I respect you/I salute you', he has been making a valiant effort to vanakkam the speaker.

Haryana at it again

Politics in Haryana is condemned to be fluid at the best of times. Notwithstanding their claim, the ruling Haryana Vikas Party-BJP coalition lives in constant fear of defections from its ranks.

Bansi Lal Chief Minister Bansi Lal is angry at the "betrayal" of HVP MP Jai Prakash.

Jai Prakash is now plotting the downfall of Bansi Lal with his former boss, Om Prakash Chautala. Chautala, in turn, is in cahoots with his former arch foe, Bhajan Lal of the Congress. And in order to stymie the Bhajan Lal-Chauthala axis, Bansi Lal has opened a line of communication with Congress president Sitaram Kesri. It seems Bansi Lal and Kesri had always been good friends whereas there were always bad vibes between Bhajan Lal and Kesri.

The recent appointment of B S Hooda as the Haryana Congress chief has come as a shot in the arm for Bansi Lal. For Hooda is Bhajan Lal's arch foe and will not countenance his return as chief minister.

The lack of an agreement on chief ministership between Bhajan Lal and Chautala is aiding the survival of the Bansi Lal government. On the other hand, Bansi Lal loyalists do not rule out his return to the Congress should Kesri expel Bahjan Lal from the party.

Haryana watchers insist any of these weird scenarios can become real in the 'Aya Ram Gaya Ram' state. And something might happen sooner than you think.

Chandra Swami's fake Rolex watches

ChandraSwami Now that he is in the doghouse with little chance of re-gaining his position as the numero uno of the capital's fixers, it should cause no surprise that Chandra Swami'shigh-flying friends are at great pains to distance themselves from him. People like the controversial UP Governor Romesh Bhandari, who used to reverentially touch his feet, are naturally loath to admit their close ties with Swami who is now charged with fraud and cheating.

But there are a few honourable exceptions who make no effort to deny their past association with Swami. Among them is an outspoken former central minister who is currently a member of the Rajya Sabha. He tells this tale about how Swami presented him with an expensive Rolex wrist watch which he sported for several years until it conked out some months ago.

On his next trip to London, he took it to a watch-seller for repairs. "Sir, that would take 400 pounds and two months for repairs. Since we do no repairs ourselves, it will have to be sent to the Rolex factory in Switzerland. That will cost another 100 pounds in insurance and airfreight charges."

Money was no consideration for our MP. After all, he reasoned, the watch itself cost not a rupee less than Rs 1 million. But even the street-smart politico was not prepared for the shock when, after a couple of weeks, Rolex returned his watch with a regret letter saying they did not undertake repairs of fake watches!

The experience of the Rajya Sabha member should jolt all those who were showered expensive wrist watches, diamond-studded rings and similar baubles by Chandra Swami in his long career in the capital. Given the experience of the MP, shouldn't they rush to check the authenticity of their gifts?

Former chief election commissioner T N Seshan needs to take note of the above tale. After all, he too had been gifted an expensive Rolex by Chandra Swami. Seshan was seen sporting the same watch in his photograph on the dust jacket of his autobiographical book a couple of years ago.

A tale of two meetings

The difference could not have been more stark. India's top media czars were meeting Opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee to explain their point of view about some of the more controversial provisions in the proposed Broadcasting Bill.

The BJP leader was a willing listener, knew his mind and, above all, was fully conversant with the subject at hand. Besides, he was humility personified, what with receiving the top guns of the newspaper industry at the gate of his official bungalow and seeing them off equally courteously. The only jarring note was the presence of a minor scribe whom Vajpayee had invited to `assist' him. In short, Vajpayee impressed the media czars immensely with his head-and-heart qualities.

In sharp contrast, when the same group called on Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda, he did all he could to put off the powerful newspaper owners with his inability to grasp the basics about the issue at hand.

For an agonisingly long moment, more than half a dozen media barons stood in front of Deve Gowda's table. When he finally asked them to sit down, he seemed least aware about the existence of the Broadcasting Bill.

To smoothen their tryst with Deve Gowda, the media barons had begun by congratulating him for `an excellent budget'. Deve Gowda, of course, was more than willing to apportion credit for Finance Minister P Chidambaram'smasterly feat.

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