Monday, August 10, 2009

Snippets / Mail Today, August 10, 2009

ALL speculation about the Congress- NCP alliance visa- vis the impending assembly elections in Maharashtra will be put to rest next week. It is near certain that the two parties will enter the fray as a coalition and take on the BJP- Shiv Sena combine. A powerful section in the Congress, led by former chief minister Vilasrao Deshkmukh, had wanted the state- level ties to be snapped and had even painted rosy pictures to the High Command of a rejuvenated Congress. But it looks like the affable Chief Minister Ashok Chavan will have his way. It is Chavan’s contention that for the Congress to go it alone, the party would have to do solid groundwork for at least three years. Congress circles believe Deshmukh, who lost his job in Mantralaya after 26/ 11, was advocating the go- it- alone policy, knowing fully well that the Congress wouldn’t make the grade and thus make Chavan carry the can. The clever Ashok saw through the game. That’s to be expected of the son of the legendary SB Chavan.

The strong man of the UPA govt
FINANCE Minister Pranab Mukherjee may not look, talk or act like the very, very important being that he is in the government wheel, but the last week of the 15th Lok Sabha’s first session left no doubt in my mind as to who is The Boss. The prime minister may be the leader of the government, but in the Lok Sabha, Pranabda is The Leader. The frayed tempers of the last week meant Manmohan Singh spent much of his time in the Rajya Sabha and let the finance minister handle the many bushfires that were raging in the lower house.

When treasury benchs heckled the BJP leaders who were turning up the pressure on the government, Mukherjee, who believes in the dictum that “ the opposition must have its say, the government must have its way,” chided his own MPs. When BJP MPs objected to the uncharitable words that minister CP Joshi had for Raman Singh, the Chattisgarh chief minister, Pranabda scolded his cabinet colleague “ for not respecting the federal structure of the Constitution and raising matters relating to a state in this house”. He again chided Congress MPs from Andhra Pradesh who heckled their own minister Murli Deora and asked them “ not to put up divisions within the party for public display”. Later, he called them to his chamber for a gentle pep talk.

Pranabda is effectively the UPA’s one man emergency service. The opening session of the 15th Lok Sabha has been unlike any debut sessions of the past: the pillorying and pounding from the opposition benches saw the government’s nose bloodied in the first round itself. To make matters worse, the UPA doesn’t seem to have any floor managers to coordinate its functioning.

God knows how many responsibilities have been thrust on him, but it appears the older he gets, the more he takes on and the better Pranabda becomes. But for him, the government’s wounds would have been far more severe.

SEVEN nominated members of the Rajya Sabha retired last week but there will be a long wait before the champagne is uncorked to ring in their replacements.
Ram Jethmalani, Hema Malini, Dara Singh, Chandan Mitra, Bimal Jalan, Kasturirangan and Narain Singh Manaklao all retired and there is a clamour amongst Congressmen and fellow travelers to occupy their seats. Nominations are arbitrary, no questions are raised, no fingers pointed.

Sonia Gandhi has her own list comprising mostly of those who provide her social and intellectual stimulus, Manmohan Singh has his favourites from the IIC Saturday Club and the Congress has its set of superannuated and ambitious. What makes it a minefield are the ambitions of allies. Last heard, the list was over a 100 strong, with chief claimants being Trinamool and DMK, both of whom have prepared a long list of writers, editors and filmmakers. Both Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are states where such local icons can pull in more votes than many seasoned politicians.

Don’t be surprised if Manmohan Singh takes a leaf out of his guru PV Narasimha Rao’s book and decides that the best decision is to take no decision at all. Rao learnt the trick from his guru Atal Bihari Vajpayee who reportedly advised him in mid 1990’ s that nomination was a “ provision” mandated in the Constitution that had no deadline, unlike elections.

Ambanis slug it out
SIBLING rivalries are fun when the fights are over vanilla ice cream but when the stakes are in billions, these can positively turn ugly and, as in the case of the Ambani brothers, have the entire nation riveted and an “ uncle” squirming on his seat at his ministerial office. From the heyday of Dhirubhai Ambani, whose admirer he was, Murli Deora has been “ uncle” to both Mukesh and Anil. It is his misfortune that he is now being accused by one “ nephew” of taking the side of the other.

TV sting operations have given us an idea of the kind of equipment that is now available for espionage but the fact is the Ambanis have been doing it for nearly three decades now without the benefit of sophisticated gadgetry. When Dhirubhai was alive, the family was accused of using means fair and foul to spy on corporate foes, but with Mukesh and Anil daggers drawn now, they are using it against each other. Neither brother can take a step without the other being aware of it.

Mukesh is an introvert who puts his foot soldiers on the job. Anil directs the operations himself. As the oil row between the two flared over the last few months, both Mumbai based brothers are spending a day every week in Delhi, more if Parliament is in session. Mukesh flies in from Mumbai on his private jet, an Airbus A319, early every Tuesday and spends the day meeting those who matter. He is among the few who can get to meet even the Prime Minister at a few hours’ notice. Back in Mumbai, every move he makes is monitored by Anil’s spies, because the following day is kid brother’s day out in Delhi. He takes off from Mumbai around 6 am and by the time he gets back well past midnight, he would have met everyone that big bro met the previous day.

For spooks, business has never been better. As indeed it is for lawyers. Around 50 of the country’s best legal brains will line up on either side when the case comes up in the Supreme Court in September and another 50 for other involved parties like the government, NTPC, GMR etc.
I expect them to be collectively richer by at least Rs 150 crores.

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