There are many adjectives you immediately associate with Lalu Prasad Yadav -- efficient is not usually one of them.
But when the railway minister listed his achievements at the completion of one year of the United Progressive Alliance government, he claimed to have done more than his predecessors.
The Railways had registered a 6 percent growth rate in passenger traffic and 8 percent in freight in 2004-2005, he declared. The average growth rates of traffic and freight in the last two decades have been 3.6 percent and 4 percent respectively.
Lalu said in one year, the turn-around time for wagons came down from the earlier 7.5 days to five days.
Another outstanding achievement, he asserted, was that the number of accidents had come down to 234.
Ticketless travel had come down and was set to plummet further with him as the railway minister, the Rashtriya Janata Dal boss added.
He unveiled a proposal to create a dedicated freight corridor running some 10,000 km.
The minister would like you to know that since 1950, the railways have added only 9,625 km of new lines. He is all set to do more than that in a single project.
The bottomline: Never mind perception, Lalu would like you to consider him the most outstanding railway minister India has had since Independence.
Headquarters quota derailed
The railway minister's aides' shenanigans are so well-known in the corridors of Rail Bhavan that even senior officers fear reprisals should they fail to tag along.
Whether it is about the release of railway wagons or reservations on major trains, without appeasing the minor functionaries, nothing can be achieved.
As a result, the age-old system of a headquarters quota -- a few seats are allotted by the railway minister's office four hours before the departure of a train -- is in total disarray.
Even senior babus no longer rely on the headquarters quota because invariably Lalu's aides commandeer all such seats in the name of RJD MPs.
Me too Gandhi
Atal Bihari Vajpayee recommended that Feroz Varun Gandhi be made a Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary, but in the face of stiff resistance from everyone around him, party chief Lal Kishenchand Advani said a polite no.
Now the young Gandhi is keen to enter the Lok Sabha. The problem is that there is no by-election in the offing in the traditional BJP strongholds in the north.
But, trust the young scion of the estranged wing of the Nehru-Gandhi family to play a pro-active role in the party, now that he has turned 25 and thus become eligible to become a member of Parliament.
Sparks in Reliance war
The fight between the Ambani brothers to carve out the huge Reliance pie has spawned a letter-war among politicians.
Not a week passes without some little known member of Parliament or former member of Parliament writing a letter against one of the Ambani honchos.
Invariably, these letters are addressed to the prime minister. More often than not, the target is Tony Jesudasan, the high-profile Delhi-based Reliance communications executive who has single-handedly managed the media operation on behalf of Anil Ambani.
Upon confronting his accusers, they have denied all charges, pleading that so and so from the rival camp had secured their signatures in good faith.
One member of Parliament from Orissa readily retracted whatever he had written in his letter to the prime minister against Jesudasan.
Regime falls, so do real estate prices
After a relentless boom in recent months, land prices in Gurgaon, bordering Delhi, have begun to register a noticeable fall.
Though the real estate boom might well be cyclical, the network of property brokers in the satellite town abutting South Delhi is still trying to talk up the price-line by insisting the dip is temporary, resulting from the recent change of regime in Haryana.
'Wait till the builders settle the matter with the new government and you will find prices going upward again,' is the malicious talk which the new Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who has a reputation to protect, would do well to nip in the bud.
Apparently, the builder lobby, which had ruled the roast under the Om Prakash Chautala regime, is keen to establish a rapport with Hooda.
Hooda has ordered a re-look at the wholesale sanctions given by his predecessor to convert farmland into commercial and residential zones.
Sun shines on scribes
Journalists in Mumbai never had it so good.
With two new dailies set to hit the stands soon -- and a new one already out last week -- editorial and managerial personnel find themselves in great demand.
A well-established Delhi newspaper -- which is making a foray into the Mumbai market after several attempts -- finds itself at a disadvantage matching salaries with a Johnny-come-lately in the business.
The yet-to-be launched newspaper, which has flooded the metropolis with its catchy roadside billboards, has happily trumped salaries being offered by the conservative Delhi group.
More than two dozen journalists are said to have obtained letters of appointment from one paper only to negotiate far better terms from the other yet-to-be launched paper, causing the Delhi newspaper to rush manpower from its existing editions in the capital and elsewhere for its Mumbai edition.
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh