Tale of two Thomases (Capital Buzz)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

NEW DELHI - Why is the UPA government in no hurry to ask controversial Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas to resign? One version is because of electoral calculations in Kerala, where the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) is expected to make a comeback in the assembly polls due in May.

Thomas belongs to the Syro-Malabar section of Catholics, who form a crucial vote bank in at least 25 of the 141 constituencies in the southern state. The majority of the community members have been supporting the UDF.

In fact, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had used the recent union cabinet reshuffle to please the different religious and caste groups in Kerala. K.C. Venugopal, a member of the Nair community, was inducted as a new minister while Vayalar Ravi, who belongs to the Ezhava caste, was given additional portfolio of civil aviation. E Ahamed, the lone Muslim minister from the state, was shifted to the high-profile ministry of external affairs.

K.V. Thomas, the minister of state for consumer affairs, was promoted as minister with independent charge. While minister K.V. Thomas, who belongs to another Catholic faction - the Latin Catholics - is promoted, how can the UPA let down P.J. Thomas, who belongs to the Syro-Malabar Catholics, on election eve!


After Raja, who next?

Who will be the next to be arrested by the CBI for corruption after former communications minister A. Raja? That is the one question being heard everywhere in Delhi from political circles to Page 3 parties.

Will it be the high-profile, vivacious corporate lobbyist Nira Radia in connection with the 2G spectrum scam or Suresh Kalmadi, chief of the controversial organising committee of the Commonwealth Games? Will it be Prasar Bharati/Doordarshan bosses B.S. Lalli and Aruna Sharma respectively or former top officials of the telecom department and TRAI?

The consensus, from political pundits to the person on the street, is the government will have to push forward its anti-corruption steps and arrest a few more, especially as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has admitted that corruption is denting the country’s image at home and abroad.

The guessing game continues.


Pranab’s unfulfilled bicycle dream

He may be managing a $1 trillion economy and keeping billionaires waiting at his office, but Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has an unfulfilled desire: to ride his own bicycle.

“While in school, I wanted to buy a bicycle..but there were no roads in my village. By the time the roads came in 1964, (then 29 years) I did not need one any more,” Mukherjee said during an informal interaction with the press here recently.

“I used to ride my friend’s bicycle. But my dream of owning and riding my own remains unfulfilled.”


PC, Omar coming closer?

In November, when Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram held a security review meeting in Baramullah in Jammu and Kashmir, he did it all by himself. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was in Srinagar, 50 km away.

But last week, when Chidambaram held a security review meeting in Kishtwar, northeast of Jammu, Omar was present. “It’s a change from what we saw in Baramullah,” a senior officer told IANS. “The latest meeting shows the two have come closer.”

Chidambaram had extended support to Abdullah after the latter’s October speech in the state assembly in which he asserted that Kashmir had acceded to India and not merged with it. The two were also on the same page as far as the three interlocutors on Kashmir were concerned.


Subtle Preneet charms Africa

India’s Africa diplomacy is in full flow, and none other than Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur is turning on the charm offensive.

The softspoken minister in charge of Africa was a big draw at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa in end-January. Ministers from African countries virtually lined up to shake hands with her. Her speech pledging India’s full support for Africa’s renaissance and development was greeted with loud applause.

African envoys and ministers were specially appreciative of her subtle low-key style while saying India would project the interests of African countries during its stint as a rotating member of the UN Security Council.


Long lecture makes Advani wait

It was a press conference where L.K. Advani was to take centrestage, but the top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader had to wait, thanks to another speaker who hogged the limelight for longer than he should have.

R. Vaidyanathan, a professor from IIM Bangalore and a member of the party think tank, went on a prolonged discourse on black money stashed abroad. Even as BJP leaders wondered how to make a polite intervention to stop him, a journalist came to their help saying all that he was saying was already printed in a report to be released on the occasion.

Vaidyanathan realised his folly, but made up saying he is used to delivering long lectures!


Literature with borders

A veteran writer who attended the recent Jaipur Literature Festival commented on the growing “Indian-Un-Indian factor in writing” in the capital to a select group of friends at his residence in Hauz Khas.

Pre-Jaipur, the media in the capital was full of proclamations whether non-Indian writers had the right to call the shots in the country’s wordscape. And post- Jaipur, organsiers are indicating there will be more Indian voices next year.

“The non-Indian writers at the festival must be a guilty lot - to trespass into the Indian literary turf…ruffling high and mighty souls …,” the writer laughed.


Delhi in demand

Delhi’s irresistible charm seems to be growing on directors and artists, from both Bollywood and the small screen.

Movie directors like Imtiaz Ali have been capturing its beauty in the big frame. Last week saw small screen celebrities launching their new shows from the national capital. TV actors Avinash Sachdev and Rubina Dalaik flew into the capital and headed directly to Iskcon temple to launch the latest version of their hit show “Choti Bahu”.

Close on their heels came prominent actor Anupam Kher. He announced the launch of his show “Bajaj Allianz Discover India with Anupam Kher”, which will debut Feb 13.


Sri Lanka woos Delhi

With peace returning to Sri Lanka after decades, the country is now making a big bid to change its image of a strife-torn nation into one that is a “wonder of Asia”. Its high commission here, led by the affable High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam, laid out a sumptuous spread for hundreds of invitees at its National Day celebration Feb 4 comprising both Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. Chefs were specially flown down from Colombo to flip out a delicious appam a minute to hungry guests who patiently waited in queue for them. And folk dancers performed both classical and modern forms before an appreciate audience, each of whom was given a bag of well produced promotional material aimed at India’s fast-growing leisure travel market.

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Tailpiece: The hottest bet in Delhi’s satta market is Rahul Gandhi will marry in 2011. There were rumours recently that the 40-year-old Nehru family scion has been engaged - only to be stoutly denied in Congress circles.

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