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When Laloo was left speechless

August 08, 2005 12:51 IST

Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee tries to enforce discipline like a schoolmaster. Members being members, however, refuse to adhere to the rulebook. So, ever so often, when a member speaks out of turn, Chatterjee loses his cool and threatens disciplinary action.

The other day, when a Janata Dal member from Bihar let loose a verbal barrage against the railway minister even though he had not been asked to speak by the Chair, an exasperated Chatterjee silenced him angrily, saying, 'I am referring the matter to the privileges committee…'

The warning had the desired effect.

A few minutes later, Chatterjee administered the same medicine to Laloo Prasad Yadav.

The railway minister has a habit of baiting his rivals from Bihar by making snide remarks. When Janata Dal-United member Prabhu Nath Singh spoke to inquire about his notice for a discussion on the dissolution of the Bihar assembly, Chatterjee sought to close the matter, assuring him he would consider his plea.

But the incorrigible Laloo could not resist having a dig at JD-U leader Nitish Kumar. Pointing at him, Laloo told him, 'The fate line on your hand does not say you will become chief minister', which drew a sharp retort from Kumar. 'You should be ashamed of yourself,' he told Laloo. 'You used to claim you did not believe in destiny and religion, and that you only believed in social justice. Now you are talking of fate lines …'

Before the matter could turn ugly, Chatterjee intervened. Pointing towards Yadav, he warned sternly, 'Stop your commentary or I will have to take action against you…'

For once, an embarrassed Laloo sank deeper into his seat.

Quite clearly, Yadav, having tasked his party functionary to handle financial affairs, could not have sullied his own hands with soiled currency.

Laloo fears Assembly revival

It is obvious that Laloo has the final word on all matters concerning Bihar.

The Congress has to play second fiddle to the RJD leader, as the support of his 26-strong contingent in the Lok Sabha is crucial to the survival of the Manmohan Singh government.

So it should come as no surprise that when a newspaper published a report noting the Supreme Court's toughened attitude over the questionable dissolution of the Bihar assembly even before it was constituted, Yadav was a worried man.

After reading the report, he sought an urgent meeting with Congress boss Sonia Gandhi, to impress on her the need to 'take the matter very, very seriously' and ensure that nothing was done by the court to upset his apple cart.

Yadav met Sonia at the Congress parliamentary

party office in Parliament House soon after the Lok Sabha adjourned for lunch.

Accompanied by Minister for Company Affairs Prem Chand Gupta, he conveyed his misgivings about what might happen should the petition seeking 'an injunction restraining the holding of fresh elections for constituting the new legislative assembly' pass muster in court.

Since one of the petitioners, Poornima Yadav, an independent MLA in the dissolved House, had been allowed to seek relief by way of revival of the dissolved House, Laloo felt the apex court could be presented a fait accompli if the schedule for the next round of elections to the assembly was advanced by the Election Commission.

But given the sensitivity of the matter and the intricacies of Constitutional law involved, Sonia could not have promised Yadav much relief. She is merely said to have assured him that she would convey his concern to Law Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj.

The government might find itself on a sticky wicket in the Supreme Court as material evidence to back up its rather tenuous claim of 'horse-trading' leading to dissolution of the Bihar assembly is virtually non-existent. The court has sought the said evidence, if any.

PC vs PM delays reshuffle

The much speculated reshuffle of Dr Singh's Council of Ministers has failed to come about.

One of the reasons, it seems, is Dr Singh is reluctant to carry out the wishes of the 10 Janpath establishment in regard to the crucial finance ministry.

The buzz in Congress circles is that the Sonia coterie wants the bright and unbending P Chidambaram replaced by the competent but accommodating Pranab Mukherjee as finance minister.

Dr Singh is said to be holding out, saying that PC is doing just fine in finance and ought not to be disturbed.

Hydra-headed corruption

A new method of harassing NRIs visiting India and extorting money from them has come to light.

Several People of Indian Origin visiting India have found that, while departing, immigration and customs staff tamper with passports when they are not paying attention.

They discover this to their cost on return journeys, when authorities at the airport seek huge sums to sort out the matter.

Apparently, immigration or customs staff remove vital pages from the passports of departing NRIs and feed the details into the immigration computer network.

When the NRIs return, they are detained for the said lapses in their passports.

At this point, helpful officials offer to rectify all for a price.

Complaints have been made to high authorities, but have had no effect so far.

Virender Kapoor