I'm the best                 Virendra Kapoor
   February 20, 2002

The campaign for electing new assemblies in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttaranchal and Manipur proved a barometer for measuring the popularity, or lack of it, of many so-called national leaders as local party leaders sought, or ignored, their presence in their wish list of central leaders to address election rallies.

Arun Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan, Sushma SwarajThus, hardly anyone in the Bharatiya Janata Party wanted national president Jana Krishnamurthy to address election meetings. Almost everyone, however, put in a strong request for Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj, Law Minister Arun Jaitley and Information Technology Minister Pramod Mahajan. Swaraj was in particular demand by BJP leaders in UP and Uttaranchal. This, of course, was in addition to almost every candidate's request for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Home Minister L K Advani.

In the Congress, everyone wanted Sonia Gandhi, though the Italian-born party boss continued to read from prepared texts. Other than her, no single leader proved a favourite with the candidates. Arjun Singh was in demand in areas with a fair sprinkling of Muslim voters, while the hill people in Uttaranchal sought N D Tiwari. Dr Manmohan Singh was wanted by Congress candidates in urban areas. But leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad had to get themselves invited to address meetings on the strength of the clout they had carried in the distribution of tickets.

Mulayam Singh,
Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, and Amar SinghIn the Samajwadi Party, there was much demand for general secretary Amar Singh and his friend Amitabh Bachchan.

Headquarters for free... well, almost!

The BJP has long been labelled pro-capitalist, just as the Congress was reputed to be a representative of the poor and downtrodden. Ironically, the Congress has cornered some of India's most valuable real estate, even as the BJP makes do with rented quarters to house its offices around the country.

In Delhi, for example, the Congress helped itself to a prime piece of land on Rajendra Prasad Road, facing Shastri Bhavan, for its national headquarters. But when the swank, multi-storeyed, air-conditioned complex was ready, the party changed its mind. Sonia Gandhi uses it instead to manage the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, while the party's national headquarters continues to be housed in the government bungalow at 24, Akbar Road. No government has yet had the courage to evict the Congress from there, even after the party was officially allotted the Rajendra Prasad Road plot at subsidised rates for its national headquarters.

No wonder, then, that the Congress-affiliated National Students' Union of India, which is headquartered in a huge bungalow on Raisina Road, has rebuffed several attempts by the urban development ministry to reoccupy it. The National Youth Congress and Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee are also housed in separate government bungalows in Delhi.

Not surprisingly, even the Communists are big landlords in India's capital city, having built multi-storeyed buildings in the heart of New Delhi. The CPI, thus, has Ajoy Bhavan off Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, also known as India's Fleet Street. The CPI-M too recently built Gopalan House a stone's throw away from Gole market.

In sharp contrast, the supposedly pro-rich BJP is still housed at 11, Ashoka Road. The only difference is that the bungalow, which was earlier in the name of a BJP MP, has now been officially allotted to the party. As for the Delhi Pradesh BJP, it functioned for decades from a dingy little room in Ajmeri Gate, in a building of pre-Partition vintage. It was only a few years ago -- after its then newly elected MP from the Delhi Sadar constituency, Madan Lal Khurana, surrendered his official house to the local unit -- that it moved into a small bungalow on Pandit Pant Marg. Now, of course, the bungalow has been officially allotted to the Delhi BJP.

Now, the BJP is about to allot itself a plot of land -- reportedly, a location close to Lodhi Road in South Delhi has been selected -- for building its national headquarters. The party's student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, has been allotted a 1,500 square metre plot on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg (earlier known as Rouse Avenue) for building its national headquarters. But the cost of the land, at about Rs 4 million, is rather steep, considering the Congress did not pay even half that amount for a better located, and bigger, plot on Rajendra Prasad Road. ABVP activists are raising funds to purchase the plot through voluntary donations from present and former members. Funds for the construction of a pukka structure will be raised later.

Wrong number

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's recent fiat, granting a 50 per cent bonanza to the private sector company, Bharati Telsonic, in all domestic long-distance calls, raised eyebrows. Particularly since Bharati has done nothing to deserve the revenue, which would have accrued to it had the public-sector Bharat Sanchar Nigam been forced to route these calls though it on alternate days. The TRAI fiat came at a time when Bharati was raising funds through its initial public offer. The response to its IPO in these sluggish market conditions was undoubtedly boosted by the TRAI order, which would have given it huge unearned profits at BSNL's cost. However, the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal stayed the order.

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