Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Snippets / Mail Today, April 13, 2009

THE month- long elections will begin this week and in about five weeks, a new government will be in place. Insecurity prevails at all levels and some of the regime’s favourites are already bolting. Pulok Chatterjee, the mystery man who liaised between Race Course Road and 10 Janpath is off to Washington; others are scouting for plum postings. And the super superannuated are finally contemplating retirement.

It’s apt that national security adviser M. K. Narayanan chose the Holy Week before Easter to hold his own version of the Last Supper. The mood among the 50- odd bureaucrats — including the entire Mallu brigade — who gathered at his house to break bread for one last time was said to have been very sombre, as if the beginning of the end was already here.
Enemy’s enemy is a friend
THE arena could not have been more perfect for a showdown between two of Bihar’s biggest exports to the world of show business. The Patna Sahib constituency will witness a battle royale between Shatrughan Sinha and Shekhar Suman, and this is one contest that will be watched more closely than any show on reality TV. Sinha, as we all know, has been the BJP’s main vote catcher in Bihar since the 1991 elections and has himself won two elections to the Lok Sabha and was also a minister in the Vajpayee government.

But once Nitish Kumar arrived on the scene, Shotgun’s stars began to fade. When his second term in the Rajya Sabha came to an end in March last year, Nitish worked on his friends in the BJP to deny him another term and the BJP leadership invoked the two- term clause. It is another matter that if strictly implemented, many second rung BJP leaders who have chosen the safer parliamentary route via the Rajya Sabha will not be sitting in that august house now.

Considering that he and Nitish don’t really get along well, Shotgun had apprehensions of Nitish scuttling his seat prospects. Long before the electoral process got under way, he began campaigning and much as they wanted to torpedo his nomination, Nitish and friends could really do nothing. Mystery surrounds the Congress’s choice of Suman to take on Shotgun. His only public appearance on a political platform so far has been at the swearing- in of Narendra Modi after the 2002 assembly elections that followed the Godhra massacre.

The grapevine has it that Shekhar Suman’s candidature is the result of a secret deal between the BJP, the JD( U) and the Congress, all of whom share a dislike for Shotgun. So in Suman, they found a Kayasth to stop another Kayasth in the Kayasth- dominated constituency. As a Bihari icon, Shotgun has the edge, but if the applecart is upset, I suspect the BJP and the JD( U) will join the Congress in celebration.

WITH elections on the horizon, most Cabinet ministers have taken a sabbatical from work these past few weeks but there is someone who looks at the polls as a once- in- a- fiveyear distraction and continues to pour time and energy into the job entrusted to him.

I am of course talking about P. Chidambaram, our home minister. Having dispatched that other national distraction, the IPL, to the distant shores of South Africa, PC is criss- crossing the country, visiting state capitals to discuss security arrangements for the voting that will begin later this week.

That nothing, not even “ Shoegate”, would deter him became evident when, a day after journalist Jarnail Singh hurled a Reebok at him, he went to Chandigarh to discuss pollrelated matters with the governments of Punjab and Haryana. Next stop was his own Tamil Nadu where he discussed reports of possible reprisal from the LTTE with the state security establishment.

But he did not go to Shivaganga whose voters have sent him to the Lok Sabha on five occasions. Most of his colleagues are skipping office to keep their quinquennial date with their constituentcies, but PC is sticking to work despite the fact that he faces a formidable opponent in Raja Kannappan, who recently quit the DMK to join the AIADMK. Could this turn out to be a case of overconfidence? Or is PC trying at the last minute to erase the image of the UPA government as a weak one in the fight against terrorism? The former is understandable, considering he has won the seat five times and the last time got over 60 per cent of the votes. If it is the latter, he may be barking up the wrong tree since Shivaganga is as tranquil as it gets. The rare flare up that terrifies Shivaganga’s denizens happens over water shortage in the mainly agrarian constituency. Maybe, instead of talking security matters with the state home minister, he should sit across the table with the DMK’s water resources minister.

The hidden hand struck
IT is seldom that the Congress succumbs to blackmail or pressure tactics. Its leaders handle pressure cooker situations with a been- thereseen- that kind of attitude. If my memory serves me right, this is the first time that the party has withdrawn two of its most known, if infamous, faces — Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar — from impending polls. Was it just a shoebite or was it an insider job that did the trick? The timing of the CBI affidavit makes me believe it is the latter. In the quarter century since the riots, numerous commissions were set up to look into the state sponsored mass murder in which, officially, 2,700 people lost their lives. The actual toll is said to be much higher. Though the Nanavati Commission found “ credible evidence” of Tytler’s involvement, he twice got clean chits from the CBI, which was however ordered by a Delhi court to reopen the case. The third clean chit has not brought him any luck either. But questions remain.

The CBI report was submitted to the court in a sealed envelope. So who leaked the contents, how and why? I am told the hidden hand belongs to a junior minister from the Rajya Sabha who was, along with Tytler, part of Sanjay Gandhi’s original gang of louts. The two have since fallen out. The minister who is in the good books of both 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course Road played his cards perfectly to put an end to Tytler’s controversial political career.

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