|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Sunday, December 26, 1999
by Harihar Swarup
The wizard of figures
TWO senior leaders Pranab Mukherjee and Jaipal Reddy adjudged outstanding parliamentarians have hardly anything in common except they have excelled in both Houses and are known to be sticklers of rules and procedures.
TWO senior leaders Pranab Mukherjee and Jaipal Reddy adjudged outstanding parliamentarians have hardly anything in common except they have excelled in both Houses and are known to be sticklers of rules and procedures. Pranab Babu has the image of a Bangali bhadralog (gentleman) and Reddy is a Garu (respectable person) from Andhra Pradesh. Both have mastery over facts and figures and, unlike many of their younger colleagues, do thorough homework. Pranab Babu to his friends and admirers and Pranab da to youngsters. Mukherjee has been a Minister for long years while Reddy spent his years, except a brief stint in the government, on the Opposition benches. Known for his repartee and punches, he has put many of the Ministers on the mat.
Both Pranab Babu and Reddy Garu began their careers in the Congress party. While Reddy Garu snapped his ties with the parent organisation as a protest against the Emergency, Pranab Babu remained with Indira Gandhi and, subsequently, became her trusted colleague. Reddy returned to the Congress after 24 years (in August, this year) after being a bitter critic of the party and now both he and Mukherjee are in the same boat and sit on the Opposition benches, though in different Houses, Reddy in the Lok Sabha and Pranab Babu in the Rajya Sabha.
Known as a wizard of figures and often described as human computer, Mukherjee reels out events and statistics like a machine, he has a phenomenal memory. Known for his expertise in economic and financial matters, he was rated one of the best Finance Ministers of the world in 1984. Pranab Babu has been a member of the Rajya Sabha for 24 years and was re-elected only months back for another six-year term. Now 64, completion of his present tenure will set a new record. Never before a leader remained a member of the Upper House for 30 years. Legendary Bhupesh Gupta could have established that record but he passed away about a year short of three decades.
There is not a single economic Ministry whose charge Pranab Babu has not held but he made a mark as the Finance Minister and attained the position of number two in Indira Gandhis cabinet. He was groomed in the government by C. Subramanian, who has come to be known as the father of the green revolution. Mukherjee acknowledges him as Guru and says he has great respect for the veteran leader.
Pranab Babu was attached to Subramanian in the Ministry of Industrial Development as a junior Minister and he recalls, CS told me on the very first day you have to move up or you have to move out and I learnt from him how a minister takes decisions, deals with bureaucracy. As a result, I always got the cooperation of officers. Mukherjee went up and up the ladder, having achieved the position of number two in the Cabinet after Mrs Gandhi returned to power in 1980. At the same time, he was made member of the Congress partys powerful Parliamentary Board and entrusted with important assignments in the organisation like handling political problems in the states. He, in fact, became the trouble shooter of the Prime Minister.
Pranab Babu recalls an incident when he accompanied Mrs Gandhi on a visit to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis made a presentation of their five-year plan to the visiting high-level Indian delegation and, in turn, the Prime Minister, asked Mukherjee to give to the other side an appraisal of Indias Five Year Plan. Pranab Babu was, evidently, not prepared for the task nor did he carry any document. Just from sheer memory he made a presentation, backed by facts and figures to substantiate every point. The Saudis were greatly impressed and Mrs Gandhis Principal Secretary, P.C. Alexendar, in her presence called the diminutive Bengali Babu as human computer.
Why did Mrs Gandhi reposed trust in Pranab Babu and relied on him so much, particularly after she began her second term in the prime ministerial office? Mukherjee says she reposed confidence in him because he did not pass on the buck, as many of her senior cabinet colleagues had done before the Shah Commission, contending that P.M. has directed me to do so As the Minister in charge of the Departments of Banking and Revenue he was examined by the commission on the issue of detention of Maharani Gayatri Devi. He told Justice Shah: You may call it an error of judgement but it was my decision.
In sharp contrast to Pranab Babu, Jaipal Reddy had been a bitter critic of the post-Emergency Congress, Indira Gandhis style of functioning and remained so in the following years.
Though he snapped ties, like many others, with the Congress as a protest against the Emergency, at heart he always remained a Congressman a firm believer in Nehruism and a true secularist. With the collapse of the Janata Dal, there was no option left for him. The Dals ideology, he says, was perfect but one split after another right from 1990 marked by personality clashes and vaulting personal ambitions of leaders made the organisation crumble under its own weight. I stood like the Casablanca boy on the burning deck until the deck itself collapsed.
Reddy Garu rejoined the Congress because in his own words I regard theocratic fascism (represented by the Sangh Parivar) as a very long-term aberration and there is a remote chance of revival of the Third Front in the foreseeable future. As a special gesture Congress President Sonia Gandhi gave him the ticket to contest from the Miryaguda constituency of Andhra Pradesh and he won with an impressive margin. He continues in the Opposition as an effective Opposition leader. The only difference is that the Congress now occupies the Opposition benches in Parliament.
over the years has been established as the spokesman of
the Janata Dal, the United Front and the Third Front and
he excelled in the task. For almost a decade he handled
the most tricky press briefings, replied to many foxy
questions by scribes but rarely got foxed, tactfully
ducked inconvenient ones, never was he offensive but
always remained objective, never tried to mislead the
press. For years, he dominated the TV channels apprising
the press of the acrimonious deliberations at various
forums of the UF. In the process he invented some
striking phrases and earned the sobriquet the
THE introduction of the Womens Reservation Bill, proposing 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies, was no easy task for the Government if the advance preparations made by the ruling side for the eventful day was any indication.
Realising that the opponents of the Bill could go to any extent to stall the introduction of the Bill, floor managers of the National Democratic Alliance planned out their strategy well in advance. There were several suggestions that the Union Law Minister, Mr Ram Jethmalani, occupy either the second or the third row to prevent a repeat of an earlier episode where an Opposition MP snatched the Bill from the then Law Minister, Mr Thambi Durai.
Mr Jethmalani, however, was not bothered about the threats issued from the opponents and turned down the suggestion. He occupied the front row as usual but minus the Bill. His familiarity with the formalities of Parliament procedure enabled him introduce the Bill. An Opposition member did try to tear the Bill but the papers he managed to get from under Mr Jethmalanis desk were just plain white sheets. He still tore them and some Opposition parties claimed that since the Bill was torn it could not be introduced.
The Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, pointed out later than even if the member had managed to tear the original Bill, it would have meant nothing. The reason: an authenticated copy of the Bill is circulated well in advance to all the members and the introduction of the Bill is just a mere formality. He cited instances when several Ministers lay down papers on the table of the House. Since the papers are already given to the Lok Sabha Secretariat in advance, the Ministers normally dont carry bulky volumes of the documents they intend to table and they just read out that they are tabling the papers.
Two years ago, the Roza Iftar hosted by the Congress President was a great attraction. That was the time when she had announced her decision to campaign for the party and last year she was already at the helm of the 113-year-old national political party. This time she hosted the Roza Iftar as the Leader of the Opposition.
However, the number of those who attended this time seemed to have come down and barring the presence of the Communications Ministers, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, there was none from the Government. Of course, there was a sprinkling of guest who belonged to the diplomatic corps and some personalities.
On the political plain,there were a host of other leaders including former Prime Ministers Mr Chandra Shekhar and Mr Inder Kumar Gujral, the CPM General Secretary, Mr Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the CPI leader and former Home Minister, Mr Indrajit Gupta and two former Congress Presidents Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao and Mr Sitaram Kesri. It was interesting to note that Mr Rao chose to make his presence felt on a day when a court upheld his discharge in the infamous St Kitts case.
Saffron blues over New Year
While the entire world rings in the New Year and the new millennium with exceptional gaiety and celebrations, several members of the BJP dont think much of it. According to senior party leader and Union Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, there is nothing special about the new millennium. To begin with he is not even sure whether the year 2000 heralds the new century or the year 2001 would. And, all that hullabaloo about the first rays of the sun hitting an obscure island in Andaman and Nicobar on January 1, 2000, the Minister feels is unwanted. After all the sun is stationary and always shining. There is nothing called the first rays of the sun. As for the celebrations, he says peene ka bahana chayihe (you need an excuse to celebrate).
The BJP too, as a party seems to subscribe to Mr Mahajans views. The party would be holding its National Executive meeting in Chennai from December 27-29. This would mean that a majority of the members of the BJP, who travel by train, would be in transit at the time of the New Year celebrations.
New Year bugs
The Y2K bug is not the only problem bothering computer professionals. According to computer experts, a large number of other man-made viruses are likely to afflict computer systems all over the world.
Incidentally, most of the viruses have been timed to strike on Christmas Day or on New Year. Sarampo, Opey A, Opey C, and Kriz would get activated on December 25 while other viruses like Chack, Chinese Fish, Marker and November 17 would hit systems on January one.
Several companies have already announced packages to retrieve data lost due to these viruses. One computers loss is indeed another computer firms gain.
Shatranj ke khilari
The Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, could have easily passed off as a good chess player if he had not entered politics. Mr Mahajan too agrees with this observation and says managing parliamentary affairs is no different from a game of chess.
Take the case of the Government managing to pass 19 Bills during the short winter session of Parliament. This despite the Government lacking a majority in the Rajya Sabha. Says Mahajan it was a tricky game and he is happy that he managed to do it. He ensured that at any given day there were two Bills under consideration in both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. You move one Bill here and one Bill there. Of course in this game the Opposition Congress co-operated.
Artiste Vinod to judge
Cine-star and Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Gurdaspur, Mr Vinod Khanna, has been invited to adjudge a painting competition for underprivileged and disabled and children on Christmas. The competition is being organised by the Delhi Study Group, a group working for social cause and Prayas, a voluntary organisation on the occasion of the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayees 75th birthday. Although Mr Khanna agrees that he does not have any artistic inclinations, he would have the privilege to adjudge the works with none other than M.F. Husain. Miss World, Yukta Mookhey is also a member of the jury.
The Prime Minister, Mr
Atal Behari Vajpayee, has shown that he has not lost his
famous sense of humour. During an informal chat with
scribes in the corridor of Parliament the other day, many
senior journalists who knew him since Mr Vajpayees
days in the Opposition reminded that it was time he met
correspondents at an informal meeting. While, the Prime
Minister gently nodded his head in agreement, another
scribe suggested helpfully: Sir why dont you
host a meeting on your birthday (December 25) while
yet another asked him if he agreed with the idea.
Mein paida hone se pehle kaise bol sakta hoon (How
can I talk even before I am born he remarked,
leaving the hardened scribes dumbstruck.
THE Indian Mining Federation have
represented to the Government of India that the recent
purchase of sixty thousand tons of South African coal for
the Sukkur Barrage requirements not only constitutes an
outrage on the Indian coal industry but is an insult to
the Indian Legislature, which passed a resolution urging
a countervailing duty of South African coal; and is a
flagrant violation of the Governments declared
intention that nothing would be done to directly
stimulate foreign coal gaining additional ground in the
Indian market. The federation hopes that the Government
of India would still find it possible to rescind the
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