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November 15, 1997


Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Awaiting the boot

Inder Kumar Gujral is not a very important player in the intense political drama unfolding in the capital before the potentially cataclysmic winter session of Parliament begins on Wednesday. Even though it could lose him his job.

The incidental prime minister of India is currently forced to hang around in New Delhi, because turmoil in the Congress could spell finis for his government. He would rather be in the Maldives, where he had planned a holiday with his family.

Gujral has been having a hard time going abroad. The last time when he was packing his stuff for a trip to Bonn and la gaie Paree, the legislators in Uttar Pradesh were rolling up their sleeves to roll into each other with microphones swinging.

Recovering from that, Gujral wanted a break for a few days on the sunshiny sands of Faru. No such luck. Now he's left thinking dark thoughts about the vindictive nature of Indian politicians while aides and associates holler unheard into his ears.

The hot seat

All of Gujral's cancellation of trips makes him look more important than he is. For, he's so superfluous that major political forces are least concerned what happens to him.

The capital is more intent on watching what happens in the Congress, where Sitaram Kesri's rivals are sharpening their knives, planning to jab him out of the president's seat he came to occupy when the former occupant, P V Narasimha Rao, miscalculated the real nature of the man.

Arjun Singh, Sharad Pawar, Jitendra Prasada and a host of other Congressmen are all queuing up to get first crack at their chief. They've already used the Congress debacle in UP. Now they are pointing out that Kesri had grandly promised never to withdraw support to the United Front again, at least as long as he lived.

The Kesri-baiters trotted to that chief arbiter of Congress fortunes, Sonia Gandhi, and complained. Kesri was duly ticked off.

The next day Arjun Singh declared that the Congress would support the UF only if it acted on the Jain Commission report.

Since acting here would mean annoying Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leaders, accused of some unsavoury dealings in the report, it would put the UF in a nice pickle. That is secondary to Singh, no matter that the UF leaders are sweating bricks; he's right now more intent on making Kesri look an ass. Come to think of it, he isn't making a bad job of it.

Saved by Jain

Talking about sweating, that's what the BJP leadership was doing till the interim report of the Jain Commission came along, a knight in papyrus armour. Till that grabbed public attention the spotlight was on the BJP's promise to storm the Centre using techniques similar to that used in UP. Nah, not by banging parliamentarians into submission, but by drawing away Congress MPs, discontented as they all seem to be.

There's this odd thing about promises -- people expect them to be kept. And some senior BJP leaders thought it better that the party keep it down about its cloak and dagger operation to woo over the disgruntled.

But former premier A B Vajpayee and party strongman L K Advani disagreed, and went one step further by cajoling Congressmen to back a BJP government at the Centre. After all, Advani and Congress vice-president Jitendra Prasada had hobnobbed together, hadn't they for three solid hours at the farmhouse of a common friend on the outskirts of the capital before the latter fused his camp into that of the former. In hindsight, advertising its scheme was not too bright an idea -- for, somehow, the plan had come unstuck.

While the Jain interim report have saved them some trouble, the BJP leaders are now figuring on how to react to it. They have to maintain a holier-than-thou but they can't afford to irk the DMK, a possible poll pal in future. So they shuffle their feet and hem, haw and cough.

Better anytime than the Congress, where the guys are tearing at each other's guts to decide who gets to swat the government out with the Jain report.


Regional newspapers always get short shrift in India. And we aren't discussing only the vernacular ones.

Consider, at least two weeks before India Today hyped up the so-called 'exclusive' about the Jain interim report it had received extensive coverage in the regional press. The multi-edition Telugu daily, Vaartha, published the report on October 16. The largest-selling Telugu daily Eenadu and its sister English daily, Newstime, trotted along behind to second place. Two days later, the largest-selling daily in the country, Malayala Manorama carried extracts from the report. The Tamil weekly Vikatan saw it had to get on the bandwagon fast and so bunged the text into its edition of October 26.

An English language daily published from 18 centres across the country sat on a copy it received on October 17. The Sunday Observer carried the report before India Today.

Then, much later, the smug weekly claimed it had the report -- an exclusive, no less. The only thing exclusive about it was a photograph of Justice Milap Chand Jain along with the magazine's controversial executive editor.

Incidentally, many politicians, including Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, Jitendra Prasada and All-India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief Jayalalitha Jayaram had their copies of the report around the time the Telugu daily scooped the story.

They are a bit bemused, wondering at the sudden interest in a matter they'd nearly forgotten about.

Capital Buzz