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November 22, 1997


Capital Buzz/Virendra Kapoor

Madame did it!

Who cooked the United Front government's goose so well for them? Congress president Sitaram Kesri? Or was it someone else?

If top Congress sources are to be believed, it wasn't Chacha who was responsible this time round, but Sonia Gandhi.

Madamji had made her annoyance with Kesri clear when she made him cool his heels for 48 hours before seeing him. During this time, she met Arjun Singh, Jitendra Prasada and other lesser mortals.

"The message to Kesri was clear," observers say, "After the Jain report, she wanted him to change his soft line towards Gujral."

Finally, when Kesri did manage to be ushered into the lady's presence, he was given the frozen shoulder. But that did not stop Chacha from seeking her `guidance'.

"You must know how to respond to the findings of the report," Sonia said, after Kesri ran out of steam, "Rajiv was my husband alright, but wasn't he your leader too?"

Kesri thought that over, found it true, and interpreted Madam's message the way it was meant to be interpreted.

And that's how the Out With Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Ministers, Or Out Will Go The UF war-cry came about.

Sneak view

Now for a sneak look on what happened at the November 17 Congress Parliamentary Party meet.

In walks Kesri and sidekicks. Chacha is very much aware how agitated the Congress leaders are, and fears some shouting from them.

Which fear soon comes true to the letter. No sooner does he sit down, up stands Andhra MP V Hanumantha Rao.

"Withdraw support," Rao shouts, "Let's not waste time discussing it!"

Kesri, probably borrowing a leaf from Inder Kumar Gujral's book, tries pacification.

"Aey, aey, baith jao (sit down)," he says, "Let's not do anything rash!"

Unfortunately, his Bihari tone angers the members, particularly those from the south. They rise together.

"Adhyakashji, aisey mat bolna (You must not speak like that)," they shout, "You must listen to him."

Senior Gujarat MP Sanat Mehta also joins the protest against Kesri's manner, making his life thoroughly miserable. Better finish the meeting fast, Chacha decides.

"Please see the portraits of Gandhi, Nehru, Indira and Rajiv on the walls around you. They are listening to our discussion," he shouts, and goes on in the same breath, "I now name DMK and V P Singh doshi (guilty) in the murder of our leader. The meeting is closed!"

State of the capital

Every now and then, Gujral loses his cool over civic affairs in the capital. And so it happened again recently.

So annoyed was the prime minister with the state of the capital this time that he sent an 'invitation' to all top municipal officials.

Be present at the PMO tomorrow, or else...

Naturally, the heads of the Delhi Municipal Corporation, New Delhi Municipal Committee and Delhi Development Authority rushed to Gujral's beck, armed with the latest data on the drive against dengue, illegal encroachments and the like. So did Delhi Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma.

All sat huddled in the committee room waiting for Gujral to show up. He turned up an hour late. And straightaway came to the point.

"Who is the NDMC president?" the PM asked.

All eyes turned to Imitiaz Khan who shifted uncomfortably.

"The state of New Delhi is terrible. Foreign dignitaries come here every day," Gujral continued, "When Indira Gandhi was the PM, roads were all spic and span. Now look at them!"

The prime minister went on in this vein for about five minutes. Having been the NDMC vice-president once-upon-a-time, Gujral knew exactly how it functioned. He ended his monologue by announcing Khan's summary dismisal.

"By tomorrow, we must have a new NDMC president!" he pronounced.

Tomorrow was hardly 12 hours later -- it came and went. Khan, however, remained firmly affixed to his chair. Obviously, the weakest prime minister in Indian history hadn't reckoned with the power of a strong bureaucrat.

Painting for a flat

Barter, it would appear, is a surefire way to evade paying income tax.

A case in point is a well-known painter who is a genius at inventing ways to stay in the news. It seems he is also creative when it comes to getting around tax laws.

In the heart of New Delhi, he had acquired a plush three bedroom flat, given to him by a philistine builder. The `gift', it now turns out, was in exchange for several paintings bearing the famous painter's signature!

No money was paid, no money received. So what could the income chappies do but scratch their heads?

Capital Buzz