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Will Arjun Singh have to retire?
Virendra Kapoor
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November 02, 2005

If HRD Minister Arjun Singh [Images] had his way, he would, by now, have already undone the effect of the recent Allahabad high court judgment quashing the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University.

The court struck down, in particular, the ministry's order issued earlier this year reserving 50 per cent seats for Muslims in the AMU.

Singh was asked to temper his 'secularist' ardour and grapple with the politically sensitive issue in a slow, measured manner.

The HRD minister -- who has consciously tried to position himself as a great secularist warrior by making strident noises against the RSS-BJP combine -- was advised patience by Sonia Gandhi [Images]'s aides. Any attempt, at this point, to restore the AMU's minority status would not only provide the BJP with an emotive issue to whip up popular passions, but could cause the Sangh Parivar to put its internal feuds on the backburner to mount a countrywide agitation against what it calls the 'appeasement policy of the pseudo-secularists' to the detriment of the majority.

But Singh had his reasons to try and reverse the effect of the court order. He will be 75 in early November. Though keeping indifferent health, he is reluctant to retire from active politics.

With his Rajya Sabha membership due to end early next year, he is keen on earning further political capital by being seen as a messiah of Muslims so he can be re-nominated for another six years. However, a section of the Congress party wants him (and a few others it considers well past their 'sell by' date) to retire.

Given the reduced strength of the Congress party in the Madhya Pradesh assembly, it will be difficult for the party to retain both its seats in the Rajya Sabha that fall vacant next year. The other seat to be vacant is held by Law Minister Hansraj Bhardwaj. The party can get only one of them elected in next year's biennial election.

Between Singh and Bhardwaj, it might opt for the latter and retire the former to a Raj Bhavan. This will ensure he can no longer interfere in the Congress politics in Madhya Pradesh, now dominated by party General Secretary Digvijay Singh.

A pointed absence

Just as he does every year, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat celebrated his birthday in Jaipur once again.

However, at his 82nd birthday on October 23, there was one notable absentee among the large number of well wishers. Noticed by friends and detractors alike, the one missing was none other than BJP leader and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who had arranged to be in Mumbai that day.

Given that Shekhawat's son-in-law and Rajasthan Industry Minister Narpat Singh Rijavi is a leading light among the dissidents arrayed against her, much was being read in her absence.

To be fair though, Scindia's daughter-in-law did visit Shekhawat, bearing all manner of sweets, dry fruits and assorted goodies in an elaborate procession.

After money, some culture

In what could be a faint hint of Delhiites' slow but certain climb up the cultural tree, instead of the usual sweets or cheap trinkets like mass-produced glassware from Indonesia or China, quite a few have been exchanging popular books as gifts this festival season.

Two Lives -- Vikram Seth's latest novel for which he has mined his family archives -- is the most gifted this Diwali.

Another sign that Delhi is keen on shedding its philistine image was visible during the recent week-long cultural festival at the India International Centre. Members and guests thronged poetry sessions, plays and musical events. It was often hard to find even standing room.

Thankfully, after an excellent feast for the eyes and ears, the organisers thoughtfully laid out gourmet cuisine from different parts of the country on all seven days.

Taking the PM for granted

Bureaucrats, not unlike politicians, network to get ahead.

Anthony J C Desa, a 1980 batch IAS officer of the MP cadre, is close to Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.

To reward Desa with a plum foreign assignment, the minister reportedly spoke to World Trade Organisation Director General Pascal Lamy. Desa's name was sponsored for appointment as one of the WTO's additional DGs.

However, when the PMO realised it had been kept in the dark, it took strong objection to the commerce minister's unilateral move. It shot off a letter to Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi, directing him to ensure that individual ministries do not, henceforth, send names of officials for foreign assignments before clearing the same with the PMO and securing the Appointments Committee's approval.

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

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