Monday, January 19, 2009

Snippets / Mail Today, January 19, 2009

AND so the Mallu Morcha marches on. The last fortnight saw two more of them being appointed to senior positions at the Centre. KJ Mathew, Chief Secretary, Kerala, moved to Delhi as Secretary, Parliamentary Affairs.

More importantly, Radha Vinod Raju became the first chief of the National Investigative Agency ( NIA), the new federal agency set up to tackle terror. Though a Mallu, Raju is from the J& K cadre with a record that speaks for itself. His investigative skills are so legendary, back in his home state they even made a movie out of his successful cracking of a murder which at one time looked like a mystery wrapped in a riddle. Raju is a welcome addition. And he can even discuss terror strategy in his native Malayalam with PM's Principal Secretary TKA Nair, National Security Advisor MK Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, CabSec KM Chandrashekar and others. Time they renamed South Block as God's Own Block.

FIVE years after he walked out of the Congress in protest against Sonia Gandhi’s Italian origins, Sharad Pawar had a change of heart and brought his Nationalist Congress Party into the Congress- led UPA. But the distrust between the two parties seems to be as sharp as ever even if the top leaders of the two parties are seen to be very civil to each other. As president of the Cricket Control Board, Pawar even used to pass around grandstand tickets for the young cricket crazy Congress leaders.

But deep down the animosities persist. There was ample evidence of this in the recent selection of India’s candidate for a top post in one of United Nations’ bodies based in Europe. Former Lok Sabha speaker and NCP leader PA Sangma was keen that a suitable candidate from the North- East be nominated for the job. Having obtained Pawar’s consent, Sangma led a delegation of MPs from the region to the prime minister. Manmohan Singh was receptive. Natural, considering that he owes his parliamentary seat to the North- East. It is after all Assam that has sent him to the Rajya Sabha for the last three terms. Manmohan spoke to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee who alerted the mandarins at the foreign office to get the job done as quickly as possible. The nomination papers were cleared and ready to be filed when, mysteriously, a senior bureaucrat with close links to 10 Janpath appeared out of nowhere and had the process stalled. Last heard, another groupie of the ruling clique was packing his bags for the journey to Europe which assures him a dollar salary for a few years. As for Sangma, he doesn’t even have the time to get angry, busy as he is fielding calls from friends and acquaintances calling in to say “ We told you so”.
NDA pulls are a migraine for BJP
WITH the elections just months away, it is open season for allies and the cause of the two alliance leaders — the UPA’s Congress and the NDA’s BJP — is not helped by the fact that both Sonia Gandhi and LK Advani are keeping a discreet distance from ongoing discussions over seat allocations. But between the two, the UPA is less disadvantaged as it has to grapple with just one demanding ally, the SP. So Digvijay Singh and Amar Singh, in the true tradition of Thakurs, continue to have public spats. But everyone knows that if matters come to a boil, Sonia will think nothing about driving across to Lodi Estate to sort out matters with Amar Singh. The NDA is not so fortunate because coalition partners are in the habit of turning up for seat- sharing talks accompanied by divorce lawyers. Nobody knows how to handle her, so they have given up on Mamata Banerejee, but trouble continues to pile up. Naveen Patnaik, a loyal and undemanding NDA constituent so far, is no more content with junior partner status and wants more Lok Sabha seats. In Punjab, the Akali Dal is not keen to meet the BJP’s demand for seats, presumably because there are more Badals lining up for the same. In Haryana, Om Prakash Chautala insists on a 50- 50 share. In Uttar Pradesh, Ajit Singh who heads a one man party wants nothing less than 12 seats when realistically, his party has an outside chance in about two or three seats.
Bihar’s Nitish Kumar also thinks the JD( U) deserves more seats and is driving a hard bargain.
Tragically for the BJP, its national leaders are busy with their priorities and its second rung leaders are looked at by alliance leaders as small fry, to deal with whom is an assault on their dignity. Somewhere, somebody has to give ground.

WITH P Chidambaram moving to the Home Ministry and finance remaining headless, both SS Palanimanikkam and Pawan Kumar Bansal dreamt of the last working day of February bringing them thirty minutes of fame that would more than make up for their long yet fruitless ministerial stints. If you wonder who these worthies are, they are both junior ministers in the Ministry of Finance. With the country heading for elections, there will be no regular budget this year and both believed it will be their turn to present the vote- on- account that must be done before February ends. Of course, one didn’t tell the other, but both were readying to tell constituents back home about their impending moment in the sun. But the dreams have died, as they often so cruelly do in politics.

Manmohan Singh, who holds temporary charge of finance, has already told Chidambaram to handle the parliamentary work relating to the finance ministry on his behalf and it is being said that he will ask the home minister to present the vote on account. If that happens, the home minister will have to take time off from chasing terrorists and illegal fence crossers to prepare his seventh budget statement with the legion of finance ministry officials, all of whom he is very familiar with. As for Messrs Palanimanikkam and Bansal, they must live with the fact that the moment which they eagerly waited for may have eluded them for ever.

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