Sonia’s dilemma: To greet or not to greet (Capital Buzz)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

NEW DELHI - To greet or not to greet non-Congress leaders is Sonia Gandhi’s new dilemma. The moment the powerful Congress president dials their number - however innocuous the reason - it sparks frenzied media speculation!

On Eid-ul-Fitr, Sonia had telephoned Kashmir’s opposition leader, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti, and her father, former chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, to wish them “Eid mubarak”. But the moment news leaked out, some TV reporters saw in the greetings the first sign that the Congress was thinking of dumping Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

Likewise, when Sonia rang up Lok Janashakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan to wish him on his 64th birthday July 5, speculation started flying thick and fast that Paswan was on the verge of being readmitted to the UPA fold. An embarrassed Paswan had to finally hustle up a press conference to deny the reports.


Why ‘baba log’ back Omar

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s comments about a “governance deficit” in Kashmir was seen by many as a clear signal for 40-year-old Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to quit. But then stepped in the Congress ‘baba log’, at the forefront being Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul, also 40, rallied behind him, pleading for “support and time” for Omar to do his “tough job” in Kashmir. Insiders recall that Britain-born Omar had built a good rapport with the US-educated Rahul - both born of foreign women who had adopted Indian citizenship - during the former’s 10-year-stay as an MP and union minister in the capital.

Other young leaders of the Congress - popularly referred to as ‘baba log’ due to their dynastic pedigree, including Jyotiraditya Scindia and Milind Deora - too lobbied hard for Omar’s continuation. Was it out of a sense of kinship with a young politician coming from a political family just like them?

And yes, Sachin Pilot, minister and brother-in-law of Omar Abdullah, and Pilot’s wife Sarah too pitched in.


Omar’s extended weekends

But Omar Abdullah’s laidback governance style - much like his golf-loving father - and his obvious links with people who matter in the Congress party are creating more enemies than friends for him.

Abdullah’s penchant for spending extended weekends in the safe havens of Delhi, where his family resides, far away from the turmoil in Srinagar, has set tongues wagging in political circles. Abdullah apparently schedules his Delhi visit in a way that includes Monday morning meetings with the central government and then flies to Srinagar late in the afternoon. That gives him almost three straight days in Delhi out of seven, say his critics.

What got really noticed was his weekend getaway to Delhi to celebrate Eid at a time when Kashmir was burning and needed the chief minister’s presence.

Now that Rahul Gandhi has thrown the politically drowning Omar a lifeline, he is expected to become more cockier, say his detractors, who include lesser Congress leaders whom Omar ignores as he thinks he has a direct line to 10 Janpath through ‘friend’ Rahul and, of course, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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Why Bhim Singh was snubbed

Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh is apparently upset with the Congress at not being invited to the all-party meeting on Kashmir.

The government tried to play it down, saying the meeting was meant for parties represented in parliament. But going by that logic, the Peoples Democratic Party, too, should not have been there as it does not have any MP. Clearly, there is more to it than meets the eye.

Panthers Party leaders are wondering if Singh was excluded because he had attacked Chief Minister Omar Abdullah over his style of working at the meeting of Jammu and Kashmir parties with the prime minister last month.

Angry over the exclusion, party leaders said they had decided to boycott the visit of an all-party delegation to the state.


Ayodhya heat: Congress gets weather blues

The upcoming verdict in the decades-old Ayodhya dispute appears to have upset Congress plans to hold regional conferences in Kolkata and Mohali later this month. Postponing the event, the party tried to give it a spin, saying the reason was uncertain weather in West Bengal and Punjab.

But now it emerges that the grand old party just wanted to play it safe at the time of the Ayodhya verdict Sep 24 which it fears could unleash unforseeable consequences. Congress president Sonia Gandhi was to address these regional conclaves to mark the party’s 125th anniversary year.

As the party’s Kolkata conference was scheduled a day after the expected verdict in Ayodhya dispute on Sep 24, party managers apparently felt it would be politically imprudent for the Congress president to be making a speech so soon after the judgment.

Some party leaders had even hoped that the verdict would be delayed till the Commonwealth Games are over.


Parliament in session ‘For Real’

It’s not often that senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, parliamentarians cutting across party lines, diplomats, the Delhi mayor and others get into a hushed auditorium to watch a movie. But that’s the kind of response Delhi-based filmmaker Sona Jain’s debut movie “For Real”, the touching story of an unhappy home seen through the eyes of an imaginative little girl, is generating.

With Advani known for his penchant for watching movies, a special screening of Jain’s award-winning feature film was held at Balyogi Auditorium for him and other members of parliament, dignitaries and intelligentsia, courtesy her father, J.K. Jain, a former MP and BJP’s head of minorities cell. The BJP leader was visibly moved after the movie got over.

“I am not surprised that ‘For Real’ has received so many awards. It is just as the title suggests - real, an excellent piece of art. I was not expecting where the film led to (emotionally),” he said.


Games over soccer

Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and Essel Group chairman Subhash Chandra may be good friends, but not when it comes to big money soccer deals. As president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Patel has decided to part ways with Zee Sports, a part of Essel Group, that had the marketing and telecast rights of Indian football till 2014.

Patel, who is also an industrialist, was unhappy with the marketing and publicity of the I-League and other tournaments of the AIFF. The cash-strapped Zee Sports had also defaulted on payments, prompting Patel to call off the deal before the finances spun out of control. The AIFF has an annual budget of Rs.230 million and they heavily depended on Zee Sports that used to give them Rs.200 million annually.

The buzz is that Patel has found a saviour in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), which is now eying the sports entertainment sweepstakes.


Aiyar gets crowds, will Kalmadi?

More than anything else, Mani Shankar Aiyar’s doomsday prophecy for the Commonwealth Games has earned him a solid following among the middle class, fed up with the daily problems they are facing in Delhi with commuting, bad roads, security paranoia, etc. And the unflappable politician revels in all the attention that comes his way.

At a recent lecture on Millennium Development Goals, the compere could not resist the temptation of raking up his Games connection. Aiyar played the courtly wit to the hilt. Smiling at the packed auditorium, Aiyar said, “I am happy to see the crowd, I wish Mr. Kalmadi has a similar luck.”


Topple team!

Trust the maverick Ram Jethmalani to think of the unthinkable. The veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader stunned many when he invited Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury to join hands to bring down the Congress government.

“Sitaram is here, if he joins me, we can knock out this government in 10 months,” Jethmalani said flamboyantly at a function in the capital. Yechury was not to be left behind as he retorted: “Even when he says nothing, he is a symbol of provocation.”

Basu - an economist to the boot!

Ever wondered that small change, lying unused and idle in your wallet or drawer, is likely to add to your fiscal woes on being donated in charity. Ask India’s chief economic advisor Kaushik Basu, and he will advise you against donating such small change.

“If the money would lie in your drawer unused, then by giving this to charity and putting it back into circulation, you are adding to the world’s money supply. And this is likely to cause inflation (and your monetary woes),” says Basu.

“I do not give small change for charities not out of selfishness but purely for this moral reason. I make sure that when I give money it is money that I would have otherwise used myself,” he adds.

Surely an economist is an economist, loath to let even a penny slip out of his palm without one or the other obscure monetary and fiscal principles crossing his mind. And by this token, Basu surely is an economist to the boot.

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