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The jet-setting seer

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Last updated on: December 02, 2004 22:35 IST

The Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, Jayendra Saraswati, who finds himself embroiled in a case of murder of Mutt loyalist Sankararaman, is an atypical Hindu pontiff.

In many ways, he defied the traditional definition of a man of god. His interests in matters temporal got him more mention in the media than did his pursuit of his assigned role as the interlocutor between Hindus and their gods above. He made his services freely available to the rich and the famous and was always ready to dabble in the mundane matters of his devotees and others.

The case against seer is too feeble | The real Shankaracharya

His favourite mode of transport was a private aircraft in which he travelled with his small entourage all over the country. High dignitaries from ministers and prime ministers to senior bureaucrats and judges and, of course, industrialists and corporate czars were accorded a special place at his court.

More than willing to intervene in all manner of disputes between his devotees, he did not mind interceding on their behalf with babus, and even ministers and prime ministers.

Such was his penchant for matters temporal that on a visit to the capital some time ago, he is said to have shown keen interest in land prices in Mehrauli. Since he had been invited by a temple in Mehrauli, which had arranged a special aircraft to ferry him from Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, he was keen to acquire land in the neighbourhood for his Mutt.

For sure, his bureaucrat-bhaktas exploited him for good postings and transfers. On that particular visit when he was the guest of the Mehrauli temple for almost a week, an IAS officer, then posted with the ministry of telecommunications, sent out an invite to senior babus and quite a few of his industrialist friends to an evening of 'spiritual experience' with the Shankaracharya.

Not every babu who got the 'circular' attended the Shankaracharya do, but quite a few of the city's businessmen and middle-level industrialists availed of the opportunity to get to know the seer and thanks to him a number of highly-placed babus.

Interestingly, sometime later when one of the co-organisers of the Mehrauli event -- another IAS officer -- found himself denied impanellment, the Hindu pontiff put a call through to then prime minister Vajpayee, seeking his disciple's promotion to the higher rank. Vajpayee himself pointed out the seer's interest in the IAS officer's welfare to his ministerial colleagues at an official function a few days later.

PS: When the IAS officer failed to get impanelled despite the Kanchi seer's intervention, upon the change of guard in New Delhi last May he emerged as a victim of the 'communal' NDA regime and got what he wanted from the 'secular' UPA government!


Bihar next hurdle for BJP-led NDA

The recent meeting of the NDA succeeded in papering over differences between the BJP and its allies on the question of Hindutva in general and the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya in particular. The BJP leadership had no problem swearing by a settlement of the temple dispute by the judiciary or through negotiations. But there could be trouble ahead for the BJP and its chief ally, the Janata Dal (United), over the forthcoming assembly election in Bihar.

For the JD (U), defeating Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal in next year's poll is a bigger priority than keeping the NDA intact. The BJP shares its antipathy towards Lalu Yadav but would not like to replace him with someone who might prove equally odious while in power. Hence its refusal to back the Lok Janshkti Party leader and minister for chemicals, fertilisers and steel in the UPA government, Ram Vilas Paswan, as the chief ministerial candidate of the non-RJD parties in the state.

Former railway minister and senior JD-U leader Nitish Kumar is keen for Paswan to lead the omnibus anti-Lalu front. Paswan may not be averse to the idea provided the BJP is made to declare ahead of the poll that it would support from outside any government that may come to be formed after the defeat of the RJD and that its preferred chief ministerial candidate will be Paswan.

The BJP objections are two-fold. One, backing Paswan for CM's post will be like landing from the frying pan into the fire, and, two, supporting Paswan for CM's post would cause the flight of its high caste Brahamin, Kayasth, Thakur vote bank. Wait for some real action within the NDA as the Bihar poll nears.


The rift is showing...

Small things often hold great significance. Like the Diwali presents that went out from a well-known industrial house bore the name of one of the brothers and not the other, a fact noticed not only by the recipients but also by the loyalists of the younger brother. All these years, the company used to send out expensive Diwali gifts to important ministers, politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, journalists, et al, with a printed letter of greetings from the patriarch.

This Diwali the two brothers have followed separate course with the long-time, Delhi-based representative of the company doing duty exclusively for the elder brother, and taking care to mention only his name on the gift boxes.

Since the relatively new communication hand, who is far more sophisticated than the old retainer whom he had replaced in the Delhi office, is now tied up with the younger brother, to assist the home-spun all-purpose man (who has been with the company since its inception and reports to the big brother), an English language journalist currently based in Kolkata is being hired. A few years ago, the latter was wellknown in the profession as the ghost writer for his pushy editor when he was working at a news magazine.


Obsessed with small things

If small things can go a long way in changing the culture of governance, then the Manmohan Singh government might have hit upon the right note.

Recently when a file from the law ministry reached the PMO seeking the pro forma approval of foreign travel plans for two judicial personages, the PMO struck down the extended itinerary, insisting that the two confine themselves to their actual station of work in West Europe instead of branching off to London for another three days at tax-payers' expense. The law ministry had duly approved the travel plan of their Lordships but Singh said nothing doing. And that was that.


Magic of power was missing

Five days after Diwali, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi hosted a Diwali Milan on the lawns of his spacious bungalow. The regulars who had attended such events at his house in previous years while he was the minister for human resource development in the Vajpayee government couldn't help notice the change. Not only did nobody big from the Sangh Parivar, including the BJP, show up, even senior media persons gave the function a slip.

In previous years, you could spot the owner-editor of an English magazine with his Man Friday in tow. You could also rub shoulders with well-known television anchors as also owner-editors of several regional language papers. None showed up this year. Worse, those who turned up complained about the sharp fall in the quality of the spread laid out for them to relish.

Besides, Dr Joshi was so taciturn on this occasion that he failed to provide a morsel of news to the assembled journos, stonewalling all questions about Uma Bharti by directing them to address these to 'Vajpayeeji and Advaniji.' Even on the arrest of the Kanchi seer, he had nothing new to add other than to say that the manner of his arrest was 'hasty and improper.'

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

Virendra Kapoor