EVERY now and then the Third Front sputters to life, raising hopes among a motley bunch of co- travellers about a smooth ride to power. It was only a couple of weeks ago that Comrade Karat and Jayalalithaa posed for photographers after the AIADMK was welcomed into the front. A combination of the Dalit Diva and the Empress of Poes Gardens would make the Third Front unassailable, went the chorus. But wait. Fresh from the 14 per cent votes that she notched in the Delhi elections, Mayawati has upped the bar and has told the comrades that she is not game for pre- poll alliances. This is a dampener for the Front, as in several states she will be taking on its constituents, cutting into their votes to benefit the Congress or the BJP. Last heard, Karat has appointed N. Chandrababu Naidu as the arbitrator. Hopefully Naidu will find time for his new job in between trying to keep his own house in order.
For once, leaders present a united front
I HAVE covered Parliament for over three decades and was there on Thursday when it met to discuss the Mumbai terror attacks. I had anticipated frayed tempers and fisticuffs. Instead, I was surprised at the show of bipartisanship in both houses. The only jarring note came from a CPI( M) campus recruit in the Rajya Sabha who attributed the attacks to the terrorists’ anger over the Indo- US Nuclear deal. Luckily for him, the mood was somber and fellow MPs let him get away with that yarn. It was LK Advani who set the tone for the day’s proceedings by staying clear of politics and offering his party’s unstinted support to the government. In turn, he was repeatedly cheered by the treasury benches. As he finished his speech, Sonia Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram crossed the aisle and walked over to Advani to thank him for his gesture.
With the top trio breaking the ice, there was a clamour among Congressmen to go greet Advani. There may be more to this new found bonhomie than meets the eye. The government is committed to bringing new POTA like anti- terror laws whose passage in Parliament could prove difficult if the comrades and the “ defenders of the faith” among the socialists put hurdles in the way. With the opposition BJP on its side, the government will not need help from its allies, inside the UPA or outside.
PC a whiff of fresh air in the ministry
MAHENDRA Singh Dhoni is a good example of a new captain galvanising a team. P Chidambaram is another. After four and a half years of the Shivraj Patil kind of leadership, things are finally moving. Among the most abhorrent sights witnessed during the Mumbai siege was that of then Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh whizzing past the Trident Oberoi in a 25- car motorcade, sitting behind the safety of the bulletproof window panes. It were sights such as this that triggered the public outcry over security cover that the political class had taken as a matter of right. From now on, they will take nothing for granted. Taking the cue from the minister — who abhors bullet proof cars and black cat commandos — mandarins in North Block have begun a quiet review of the security requirements of our netas. In Delhi alone, nearly 9,500 out of the total 60,000 police personnel — 1 out of every 6 in uniform — are permanently on VIP security duty. Many of the 400 odd VIP protectees need to be protected from potential killers only because they are murderers themselves. Politicians are not the kind to voluntarily surrender anything, so Rahul Gandhi must be lauded for seeking a review of the current security provisions which he said “ were designed and operated in hierarchical ways”. In the next few weeks, the security cover for many will be downgraded, if not withdrawn. A politician friend who will soon lose his security cover didn’t get to know about it from any official note from the government. It was his “ protector” who told him “ I won’t be with you from next month”. What an abrupt way to end a relationship!
LOK SABHA Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s multi- tasking skills could make many CEOs turn green with envy. Even a casual glance at his daily schedule would leave many wondering how he, just a year short of 80, still manages to pack so much into his everyday life. Not only is he active beyond his years, the Speaker’s office has a hyper active press and public relations cell . On an average, I get 2 to 3 SMSes from his office about his engagements for the day. Last Friday, I got 4. The first one told me, “ Please see the Lok Sabha website for the Honourable Speaker’s remarks at the end of the debate on the Mumbai attacks”. No sooner had I checked out the site, my handset beeped again to inform me that Chatterjee will be chairing the first meeting of “ Parliamentarians on Global Warming and Climate Change”. Even before I began to feel the heat under my collar came a third one saying that the Speaker has invited former UN under secretary general Shashi Tharoor to talk to MPs about terrorism. If you think that’s time management, he isn’t done yet. The fourth message said the Honourable Speaker will inaugurate the “ 3rd Sustainable Summit Asia 2008” later in the afternoon. All this on a day when Parliament opened its winter session. Only the Marxists who chucked him out think he is a spent force. I think he will go on and on and on.