Remember Shatrughan Sinha? The Bollywood villain-turned-politician is playing hard to get, now that the BJP needs his services to pull in crowds at election rallies in Bihar.
Ever since they refused to project him as a chief ministerial candidate, Sinha has been sulking, refusing to cooperate with the party leadership. But the Bharatiya Janata Party-Janata Dal(United) combine is not bothered. It believes there is a strong anti-Lalu Yadav wave blowing through the state, which should help it emerge as a winner in the coming election.
Yadav has been good for the Railways
Notwithstanding his image, Lalu Yadav has done a good job as railway minister. Despite his refusal to raise fares and freight rates, the Railways' financial performance has seen a marked improvement since he took over last year -- a fact publicly acknowledged even by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
While Lalu-baiters seek to deny him credit, arguing that it is a general spurt in economic activity, his supporters insist their leader has cracked down on corruption and wastage.
Senior babus at Rail Bhavan ascribe the improvement to the fact that Lalu does not interfere much in the ministry's day-to-day affairs. For someone preoccupied with politics in Bihar almost constantly, his long absences have proved a boon. What is most remarkable is that he has consciously sought to end corruption in the release of wagons for hauling goods. The corruption was so deep-seated that it could be traced to the highest levels at Rail Bhavan. Lalu not only stopped interfering in the release of wagons, he has also tried to ensure that his personal staff and hangers-on do not either.
Widespread malpractices such as under-invoicing of freight have also dropped substantially since he began surprise raids and insisting on weighing actual goods hauled against official invoices.
Babudom sore with Sarkar
There is much heartburn in the higher echelons of babudom over the recent decision to extend the tenure of the defence and home secretaries on the specious ground that continuity was required in the formulation of policy. Senior babus wonder why continuity wasn't required in shaping the nation's economic policy or, for that matter, formulating schemes aimed at alleviating poverty.
Curiously, the selective extensions -- given to the secretaries as well as heads of the Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) -- have been motivated not by the requirements of the posts, but by the personnel occupying currently them. The hand of National Security Adviser M K Narayanan is seen in the decision behind the extensions for RAW and IB chiefs, while in the case of the secretaries, a powerful bureaucrat at the PMO has helped his brother-in-law enjoy another two years in service.
Incidentally, both IAS officers who stand to gain from the decision are ex-army. They got into the IAS by writing three papers and were given an additional two years' seniority due to their stint in the armed services.
Modi trips SEWA
Unable to convince the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat of its bona-fides, the Ahmedabad-based Self-Employed Women's Association has taken its complaint to senior BJP leaders in New Delhi, including former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Modi is still holding out, refusing to release funds to a SEWA-administered project for the rehabilitation of women affected in the 2001 Gujarat earthquake.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development, a UN agency, undertook to finance the project. The cost of Rs 113 crore (Rs 1.13 billion) was to be routed through the Gujarat government, which was also empowered to monitor its implementation.Sometime ago, a government audit team raised certain objections, including the fact that an organisation headed by Mihir Bhatt, son of SEWA founder Ela Bhatt, had been paid a huge sum from project funds as consultancy fees. SEWA has denied favouritism, insisting that Mihir was paid for services rendered.
That reshuffle buzz again
The capital's political circles are buzzing again with talks of an impending reshuffle. Although speculation centres around several names, it is most likely that the Congress leadership might axe Power Minister P M Sayeed, who has given a very poor account of himself. For undisclosed reasons, Sonia Gandhi had insisted on inducting him into the ministry, even though he had failed to retain his Lok Sabha seat from Lakshadweep last year.
Meanwhile, if an industrial house has its way, Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar might find his wings clipped as he has a mind of his own and refuses to do anyone's bidding. Aiyar now heads both the petroleum and Panchayati Raj ministries.
Snared by cheap imports
The list of those who availed the services of a wheeler-dealer -- who imported a large number of fancy cars and paid a minimal five per cent duty as against the normal 105 per cent -- continues to grow. Aside from prominent industrialists and politicians or their wards, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence sources reveal that prominent media tycoons figure among those who got their expensive wheels through the said gentleman, who is now in jail.
Of course, in addition to Marxist leader Jyoti Basu's son Chandan Basu, who 'imported' two cars through this route, a couple of prominent politicians figure in the list. But authorities have been rather gracious in regularising the questionable imports with retrospective effect, on the payment of the difference in duty, with interest.
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh