Sunday, April 8, 2001,
Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Chaudhary Devi Lal — ‘an uncut gemstone’
Chaudhry Devi Lal
M.G. Devasahayam
HAD the privilege of knowing and working with Chaudhry Devi Lal both as a civil servant and later as politician of short vintage. The news of his passing away took my memory to the year 1977 when our relationship started on a very unpleasant and indeed adversarial note. Though we hardly knew each other, compulsion of coalition politics — Jan Sangh in Janata Party— had unwittingly placed him as persecutor and myself that of the persecuted.



Punjab and Punjabiyat
Rakshat Puri
WORLD Punjabi Conference is scheduled to be held at Lahore in Pakistan from April 13 — Baisakhi Day. The organization arranging it,, the World Punjabi Conference (Pakistan), was established in 1984. The moving spirit behind it was Fakhar Zaman, who is organizing the coming Lahore Conference.


Harihar Swarup
The ‘‘Swayamsevak’’ who made it to the top
INE months ago it looked almost certain that senior BJP Vice-President, Mr Jana Krishnamurthy, would succeed the aging Kushabhau Thakre. Many congratulated him too and he acknowledged the felicitation with a nod mixed with optimistic caution: ‘‘Let us see....’’ He was considered eminently suited to head the ruling party at the Centre.


Is N. K. Singh PMO's sacrificial goat?
RESSURE is mounting on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to drop some officers in the Prime Minister's Office beginning with his confidant and Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra and superannuated Officer on Special Duty N.K. Singh.

  • Chautala storms Jat land
  • Special Prime Minister's Group
  • Assertive satraps
  • To the aid of handicapped


Humra Quraishi
Waiting for the arrival of Clinton
ELHITIES are waiting for Bill Clinton to re-touch Delhi soil. In fact, the planner of Clinton’s visit to India, Mr Vinod Gupta, is already here and has even hosted a bash at one of the five-star hotels to herald Clinton’s arrival and perhaps his own arrival on the circuit, however, well camouflaged as a belated Father’s Day reception for his eighty plus father ..oops pop!

  • More and more parties
  • Another tailpiece — this tail is forked
  • Tailpiece —one is for four!



Chaudhary Devi Lal — ‘an uncut gemstone’
M.G. Devasahayam

I HAD the privilege of knowing and working with Chaudhry Devi Lal both as a civil servant and later as politician of short vintage. The news of his passing away took my memory to the year 1977 when our relationship started on a very unpleasant and indeed adversarial note. Though we hardly knew each other, compulsion of coalition politics — Jan Sangh in Janata Party— had unwittingly placed him as persecutor and myself that of the persecuted.

Ch. Devi Lal was the Chief Minister of Haryana and I was on deputation to Government of India as the District Commissioner of the Union Territory Chandigarh of from the day Janata Party captured power in 1977, the RSS component of the Jan Sangh in Chandigarh have been desperately gunning for me with a view to settle some scores. They got an opportunity to manufacture some adverse observations about me in the report of the Enquiry Commission probing into the death of an old lady in village Rewasa (Bhiwani District) in 1974 allegedly due to police harassment. At the time of this incident I was the D.C. of Bhiwani and there was a political agitation on the issue led by Ch. Devi Lal, whose main target was Mr Bansi Lal, the then Chief Minister of Haryana hailing from the same district.

The Rewasa Enquiry Commission was constituted in 1977 primarily to find fault with and fix Mr Bansi Lal and his politician son Surender Singh. This the commission did with aplomb. But my RSS detractors from Chandigarh found a God-sent opportunity to get me also fixed in the process. They spent quite some resources in getting a few innocuous words written about me to the effect that ‘I was supine’ during the Rewasa episode since I did not take drastic action against the police personnel of Bhiwani District.

Armed with this ‘great revelation’ the Jan Sangh Ministers went for my jugular at the Haryana Cabinet meeting on November 1, 1977 presided over by Mr Devi Lal, when the matter was discussed. They demanded my arrest and filing of criminal charges against me. In the face of vehement opposition from Mrs Sushma Swaraj and Col Ram Singh, both Cabinet Ministers, this demand did not go through. Then they wanted to place me under suspension forthwith. This was objected to by the Chief Secretary, Mr S.D. Bhambri because I was under deputation to Government of India and only that Government had the power to suspend me. Therefore a decision was taken to recommend my immediate suspension and convey the resolution to Government of India forthwith. But this also did not materialise due to the timely and effective intervention of Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan. But this is a long and telling story.

Through out all these happenings Ch. Devi Lal was more of a passive onlooker than an active participant. From his actions and attitude it was clear that he was not convinced about this ‘drummed up drama’ against me but was going along due to pressures and compulsions of coalition politics.

This was clear from the way he received me on my return from Patna where I had gone to seek the intervention of JP. He did not show any anger or displeasure for my having gone over his head to reach JP and send a strong message to him as well as Union Home Minister Ch. Charan Singh. Instead he had the magnanimity to apologise saying that a mistake had happened and the same would be rectified as early as possible. He did live up to his promise. Only that it took longer than expected since the vested interests in league with some petty bureaucrats of Haryana dragged on the matter as long as they could resulting in severe damage to my civil service career.

This episode was the trigger to my quitting the IAS in 1985, a full 15 years before my normal time of retirement. My next encounter with Ch. Devi Lal was in 1988 when he had come to Madras to prop up Mr. Karunanidhi of DMK in the run-up to the State Assembly elections which were held in early ‘89. During our conversation at the Chepauk State Guest House on the Marina, he expressed a desire that I should participate in politics. He was particularly keen that my association with JP would stand me in good stead while involving in political activities.

Though engaged in private sector, I did take up the suggestion and dabbled in politics for a few years. This brief period did give me a deep insight as to how cheap is the politics being played out in this country and how blatantly names of tall leaders like Ch. Devi Lal were being exploited by petty minions and rent seekers. There was such a gang in Tamil Nadu that was making big money using ‘photographs’ taken with Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal as a tool for extortion of money from favour seekers. These small timers did not want me anywhere near the party or politics. They even arranged physical threats to scare me away.

Soon these petty elements vanished from the scene and I did spend a few useful years in politics along with Messers Devi Lal, Chandrashekhar, O.P.Chautala and Yashwant Sinha. I had seen Ch. Devi Lal from very close quarters while extensively traveling with him in the rural hinterland of Tamil Nadu and serving as a member of the High-Powered Committee on Agricultural Policies and Programmes set up in 1990. For a man of his age (he was 75 plus at that time) his devotion and commitment to the cause of farmers was strong and intense. Though sharply distinct in language and habits he instantly struck a cord of affinity and affection among Tamil Nadu farmers who turned out in thousands to listen to him. Ch. Devi Lal himself was so touched and enthused by the visit that he declared Tamil Nadu as the most fertile ground to launch the ‘Green Movement’ to free the farmers from exploitation and economic backwardness and put them on the path to progress and prosperity.

The High Powered Committee headed by Bhanu Pratap Singh (former Union Agriculture Minister) was assigned the task of preparing a blue print to launch and sustain such a movement. I was an active member of this Committee along with Ch. Khumbha Ram Arya the tallest kisan leader in the country after Ch. Devi Lal, Ch. Suraj Bhan (now Governor of Himachal Pradesh), Mr V.S. Rao (presently Agriculture Minister, Andhra Pradesh) and others. Within the exact time of six months assigned to this Committee, the blue print was presented to Ch. Devi Lal, Union Agriculture Minister cum Deputy Prime Minister of India on July 31, 1990.

Had this blue print been put into practice and implemented the very face of India’s economy would have undergone a transformation. Indian Agriculture would have been resurgent moving away from the static subsistence syndrome into a dynamic surplus situation capable of taking on the world on its own terms. This endless crimping about WTO and fear of lifting QRs would have ceased long ego. Farmers would no longer be mendicants perpetually cringing for this or that favour or subsidy from the almighty State and the sneering urban elite.

But this was not to be! Vested interests who got wind of it saw to it that the whole thing was sabotaged by creating a hiatus between Devi Lal and Prime Minister V. P. Singh resulting in the sacking of the former within days of the submission of the committee’s report. The challenging task taken up by this towering leader of farmers remained unfinished and continues to be so despite the passage of over one decade.

Ch. Devi Lal was physically big in size, a bit rough in his voice and did not have much formal education. But he had a heart of gold, which was at the right place. He could be compared to an ‘uncut gemstone’, rough in the exterior but smooth within. It has been often said that Devi Lal symbolised the strength of Parliamentary democracy in India-that a village agriculturist could rise to be the Deputy Prime Minister (perhaps even the Prime Minister) of the World’s largest democracy through the process of grass-roots politics. If one man deserved this place in history it was the ‘Tau’ of Haryana.

May his soul rest in eternal peace. 


Different facets of Ch Devi Lal over various years: 
a cartoonist’s view

The kisan leader who wanted his state to take off


He towered over the rest, including his family


An autographed copy of Ch Devi Lal caricature at the Boat Club,
 New Delhi, in 1989


Ch. Devi Lal’s comeback rally at Jind left others cowering. An autographed caricature.

Cartoons by Sandeep Joshi 



Punjab and Punjabiyat
Rakshat Puri

A WORLD Punjabi Conference is scheduled to be held at Lahore in Pakistan from April 13 — Baisakhi Day. The organization arranging it,, the World Punjabi Conference (Pakistan), was established in 1984. The moving spirit behind it was Fakhar Zaman, who is organizing the coming Lahore Conference.

Punjabi Conferences were held previously in 1986 and 1992. The one coming on Baisakhi Day will be the third. It promises to be the largest of all Punjabi conferences that have been held in the last few decades.

Participants are expected to come from wherever distinguishably Punjabi groups are settled — about 200 in Pakistan itself; about 130 from India; and about 70 from elsewhere. In a sense, discussions at the Lahore Conference will take significantly further some of the ideas that emerged in the Punjabi conference organized at Chandigarh last December.

The conference in Chandigarh was different from the previous Punjabi conferences in that the participants were not only Punjabi writers. They included scientists, economists, educationists, businessmen and others. This precedent is expected to be further extended at Lahore. In addition, the theme that was hesitantly touched upon in the Chandigarh conference will be discussed in detail at the Lahore Conference.

The theme is “Punjabi, Punjab and Punjabiyat in the context of the 21st century”. It is a wide and all-embracing theme. The detailed reference to Punjab and Punjabiyat will probably be unprecedented.

The subject does not seem to have featured in any post-Partition Punjabi conference. Part of the significance of the theme follows from the fact that the most active debaters will be participants from India and Pakistan.

The issues discussed will of course include trends and development in Punjabi literature and literary thought in Pakistan and in India. Along with this there is to be consideration of Punjabi writing outside Indian and Pakistani Punjab — in Britain, Canada, the USSA, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Germany, South-East Asia, and wherever else Punjabi communities are settled. There will be debate and discussion also on theatre and cinema; on cultural exchange and active dialogue among cultures; and on the Punjabi woman’s place in history and society. But two subjects which will probably be much more seriously and purposefully discussed than ever before are, first, the genuine Punjab and the synthetic Punjab and, in this connotation, the significance of the word Punjabiyat. It should not be difficult to grasp the importance of this discussion — and its direct and indirect effects as its import sinks into the collective mind of eastern and western Punjab in the coming months, years and decades.

True, in the present and the immediate future the likelihood of any return to a unique and integral Punjabi socio-cultural identity may seem remote. We live in a time when religion asserting extremists and fanatics abound, and hold the stage.

But the kind of aura and ambience that conferences such as the coming Lahore Conference create is perhaps the only way to strike at the root of such fanaticism and extremism.

It may be useful to recall, in this connection, that after the Partition, a large number of Sikh and Hindu families, including some socio-politically prominent ones, opted to stay in Pakistan. But the political climate during and after the Partition-time riots forced them to leave for India.

The Muslim League of that time, which led the demand for Pakistan, had never had any foothold in pre-1947 Punjab. Its base was, in the main, in Uttar Pradesh, at that time United Provinces.

Punjab then had been ruled for years by the Unionist Party, a regional party that stood essentially for the growth and development of Punjab alone. Much was and is said in denunciation of the Unionists — that, for example, they did not join in the struggle for Pakistan’s creation or for India’s Independence. But history will record that Unionist leaders like Sikander Hyat Khan and Chhotu Ram did a great deal substantially for the Punjab and the Punjabis, and had therefore a large and loyal following. Would it be possible, in any discussion on Punjabi, Punjab and Punjabiyat, to remain unmoved by these historical factors, and their socio-cultural ramifications as social memory is prodded and the past remembered collectively and individually?

The second factor, which will for the first time be seriously discussed, is the issue of the script of Punjabi. Half a century after the Partition, and in the context of the 21st century — thee century of hi-tech information and communication — this is a subject of extreme importance.

After the Partition, Punjabi on the Indian side of the border was restricted officially to the Gurmukhi script. On the Pakistani side it was restricted to Shahmukhi script (the Persian-based alphabet for Punjabi, which pre-dates Gurmukhi by many centuries).

The result was that a script-wall came up between the two sides of the Punjab, which prevented cultural and literary exchanges — there was ignorance on both sides about developments in contemporary prose and poetry on the other side.

There is need for a new, common script also to help Punjabi girls and boys in America, Europe and elsewhere who are of course familiar with the Punjabi language, since it is the language that they speak at home even though their parents have lived in the adopted countries for decades, and even though the children have grown up there. But those boys and girls are not familiar with either Gurmukhi or Shahmukhi. They have to be provided with a new, common script that would serve them in all environments — where they are settled, and back in their home state and province.

A new, common script that would also enable easy and natural access to hi-tech communication and information trends, developments and techniques. It was more than merely thoughtful, it was imaginative of the chairman of the coming Lahore Conference, Fakhar Zaman, to include this issue and give it due importance. Zaman, was chairman formerly of Pakistan’s National Commission of History and Culture; was at one time member of the Senate in Pakistan; and was chairman of the Pakistan Committee for World Cultural Decade (UNESCO). He is also a well-known Punjabi poet and writer.

His Punjabi poetry selections include Kanso Vele Di, and Wangaar; his novels include Sat Gowaache Lok and Bewatna. A number of his books were banned during the military regime of Zia ul Haq. He edited an English journal, Voice, an Urdu journal Bazgasht, and a Punjabi journal, Wangaar. All these journals too were banned. In 1996, after a long trial following his petition, the ban was lifted on four of his books — the novels Sat Gowaache Lok and Ik Marey Bande di Kahaani; and the poetry selections Wangaar and Kanso Vele Di.

If, under Fakhar Zaman’s unremitting zeal and single-handed endeavour, the Punjabi Conference at Lahore is able to nourish the seed planted at Chandigarh in last December’s Punjabi conference, a new era may eventually dawn for the Punjab and the Punjabis on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, bringing into play a new Punjabi ambience, a return to Punjabiyat. (Asia Features)


The ‘‘Swayamsevak’’ who made it to the top
Harihar Swarup

NINE months ago it looked almost certain that senior BJP Vice-President, Mr Jana Krishnamurthy, would succeed the aging Kushabhau Thakre. Many congratulated him too and he acknowledged the felicitation with a nod mixed with optimistic caution: ‘‘Let us see....’’ He was considered eminently suited to head the ruling party at the Centre.

The argument advanced was that he was responsible for building the party in Tamil Nadu right from the Jana Sangh days even in the teeth of opposition from the Dravidian parties, which were anti-RSS.

Then something went wrong; out of nowhere a dark horse — Mr Bangaru Laxman — emerged as the man for the party's top slot. The entire rank and file of the BJP was taken by surprise and a dismayed leader could not hold back his shock. His impromptu comment was: ‘‘Strange are the ways of our senior leaders who can turn a dark horse into a bright star at the bat of an eyelid.’’

It was explained repeatedly at background briefings that the choice of Mr Bangaru, a Dalit, suited the senior leaders; almost all of them were in the government and they would not like their decisions to be questioned at the party level. Going by past experience even Mr Thakre had put his foot down on many occasions. It was reckoned that the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues would now have a better grip over a party which had sometimes exhibited obstinacy over certain vexed issues.

Though the step somewhat reflected the Congress culture, it suited the BJP, given its present problems. Truly, a grateful Mr Bangaru dutifully followed the course chalked out by senior leaders till he was discarded as a ‘‘failed Swayamsevak’’ following the Tehelka expose.

Mr Jana Krishnamurthy was, evidently, cut up at the way he was slighted but he never showed any sign of rancour, at least, not openly and dutifully pledged his loyalty to the new party President, who appointed him chief spokesman of the party — a job which he did extremely well.

Mysterious are, however, the ways of destiny. What Janaji was deprived nine months back virtually fell in his lap and this was ‘‘poetic justice’’ indeed. The BJP's National Executive last month unanimously appointed him party President — the first from the South.

He took over the reign of the BJP at a time when its public image has plummeted to the lowest ebb and his anguish was reflected on taking over the captaincy of the ship which was ‘‘sailing smoothly but suddenly finds itself in the midst of a storm’’.

Will he be able to take out the ship out of the tossing tempest ? ‘‘We are a growing party, a cadre-based party but in the past three or four years, we have been so busy with frequent elections that we have neglected training’’, he says. Frequent training camps and brain-storming sessions are first in the priority list of Janaji.

While Mr Bangaru is ‘‘a failed Swayamsevak’’, Mr Jana Krishnamurthy, now 72, has been a life-time ‘‘Swayamsevak’’ and nobody can ever accuse him of taking a bribe or asking for even a simple favour for himself or his family members. His main thrust all through his long political career has been on integrity and honesty in both public and private life. The BJP's leadership has realised, though belatedly, that ‘‘he is the right man for the right job in a right party’’.

Hailing from a leading family of lawyers from Madurai, Janaji joined the RSS in 1940 when he was in his teens, became a "Pracharak", held the position from 1945 to 1951, and subsequently joined the Jana Sangh. He was in the forefront when Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee gave a call, following the death of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, to all young men to give up their jobs and serve the party.

A murderous attempt was made on his life in Coimbatore as far back as 1982 but no harm came to him. The only election Janaji contested was from the prestigious constituency of Madras (South) in 1998 but he lost to Mr T.R. Balu of the DMK. In the past Madras (South) was represented by such eminent persons as C.N. Annadurai, the first DMK Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and the former President, Mr R. Venkataraman.

Mr Krishnamurthy came to Delhi at the behest of Mr L.K. Advani in 1993 and, since then has been associated with the strategy think-tank, headed the Intellectual, Economic, Defence and Foreign Affairs cells of the party and, subsequently, was elevated to the post of Vice-President of the party.

Unlike other RSS "Pracharaks", Janaji is married and has two sons and three daughters. Most of the time, he is in Delhi and stays at 9, Asoka Road, the bungalow adjacent to the BJP headquarters. The Asoka Road bungalow had come to be known as a bachelor's den where such veterans as J.P. Mathur and Pyarelal Khandelwal lived.

Janaji occupies one room and the drawing room and kitchen are common. His lifestyle is simple and is in sharp contract to the lifestyle of ministers who live in style in their official residences. Officially, 9 Asoka Road, was earlier allotted to Rangrajan Kumarmangalam but, after his demise, has been transferred to the Law Minister, Mr Arun Jaitley, who lives in his own house in South Delhi.

Janaji's only handicap is lack of proficiency in Hindi; he is not very comfortable with the language. As a senior BJP leader remarked: ‘‘What can prove to be good for the BJP in the South cannot bring dividends in the North.’’ That was, possibly the reason why he missed the bus nine months back. 


Is N. K. Singh PMO's sacrificial goat?

PRESSURE is mounting on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to drop some officers in the Prime Minister's Office beginning with his confidant and Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra and superannuated Officer on Special Duty N.K. Singh.

To pacify hawks in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar which has specially trained its guns on Mr N.K. Singh, it should not be long before at least he makes his exit. Sources said Mr N.K. Singh has been asked to put in his papers to avoid further embarrassment to the Prime Minister.

Thus in the prevailing scheme of things, Mr N.K. Singh is expendable as he is on an extended tenure in the NDA Government and may not accompany the Prime Minister on his upcoming visit to Iran next week. Mr Vajpayee has made it clear that he is not going to send Mr Mishra or the Joint Secretary in the PMO, Mr Ashok Saikia, packing as they are not involved in any wrongdoing. Mr Saikia's proximity to Mr Vajpayee is no secret as the Prime Minister was his guardian when he was a student of Delhi University nearly three decades ago.

Chautala storms Jat land

Like father like son. Emulating his father this time is the Haryana Chief Minister, Mr Om Prakash Chautala. His father Devi Lal catapulted to national politics after he successfully campaigned for Mr V.P.Singh in Allahabad.

Mr Chautala too has chosen Uttar Pradesh to launch himself in national politics. He stormed the Jat land in western Uttar Pradesh last week and made a claim to the mantle of kisan leader Charan Singh.

Espousing the cause of the farmers, the Indian National Lok Dal President did manage to make several friends among the kisans but also rubbed some people the wrong side. Meerut was the scene of demonstrations by a group of people who raised slogans before the office of the Deputy Collector. Surprisingly, several slogans were directed against Mr Chautala, baffling the Haryana camp.

It has now come to light that another prodigal son of the region, Mr Ajit Singh, is not happy at Mr Chautala's attempt to usurp Charan Singh's mantle and that too in western Uttar Pradesh. He is averse to competition in his homeland.

Haryana observers point out that it was only in 1987 that Mr Ajit Singh made an attempt to strike roots among the Jat population in the State. He put up candidates for the State Assembly elections in all the seats under the banner Lok Dal (Ajit). All his candidates lost their deposit.

Special Prime Minister's Group

The raising day of the elite Special Protection Group, specially created after Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984 to provide proximate protection to the Prime Minister and immediate members of his family as well as former heads of government, saw the country's chief executive Atal Behari Vajpayee get into a huddle with two of his predecessors, Mr P V Narasimha Rao and Mr Chandra Shekhar.

As Mr Vajpayee, Mr Rao and Mr Chandra Shekhar were closeted together for nearly 20 minutes at the 7 Race Course Road residence of the Prime Minister, SPG personnel ensured that the three leaders were not disturbed.

Naturally there is intense speculation on what did the three leaders discuss — runaway corruption in the administration and steps required to deal with this cancer, growing political uncertainty or the direct attack mounted on Mr Vajpayee to destabilise the NDA Government.

At the end of their tete-a-tete the three leaders emerged and attended the function to mark the raising day of the SPG. Former Prime Ministers V P Singh and H D Deve Gowda and Congress President and Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi were conspicuous by their absence at SPG's raising day bash. Among the former Directors of the SPG present on the occasion was the unassuming S Subramanian who was the brain behind raising the highly motivated and specialised force way back in 1984-85.

Assertive satraps

The two main national parties of the country are having a taste of federalism these days, it seems. Regional satraps, whether they are allies of the BJP or the Congress, are asserting themselves in a manner that the two parties have been virtually forced to sing their tunes.

The Congress has been made to bargain hard for every seat in Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and West Bengal by its regional allies and the final tally of seats given to the party is not to the liking of its supporters who feel that the party should have got more in the contest for the forthcoming Assembly elections.

The BJP, still dealing with the aftershocks of the Tehelka expose, has been forced to call off its programme of nationwide rallies apparently because its allies in the NDA did not show enthusiasm. Though the BJP said that the rallies were cancelled because the Congress agitation on the tehelka expose had lost its sting, the reluctance of NDA allies was evident.

In Hyderabad, the TDP did not join the rally and in Bangalore, the JD (U) was absent. The Shiv Sena, it is learnt, was not very keen on the proposed Mumbai rally. Incidentally, the Congress also cancelled its scheduled rally in Mumbai. Is the national polity finally moving to State capitals?

To the aid of handicapped

It was noted physicist Stephen Hawking's visit to India that highlighted how unfriendly the public places in the Capital were for the handicapped. It was his stature and the media attention that prompted the authorities to create special facilities at places like Jantar Mantar and Qutub Minar. The joy of the handicapped tourists at the new attraction was shortlived as within no time the specially created infrastructure was ripped apart.

However, there is good news for the handicapped people as the Delhi High Court has now come to their aid. The local authorities have been asked to make provisions for ramps and lifts for the physically challenged so that they can easily access libraries and other places of public utility. This time, hopefully, the infrastructure will be there for good.

(Contributed by TRR, T.V.Lakshminarayan, Prashant Sood and P.N.Andley)



Waiting for the arrival of Clinton
Humra Quraishi

DELHITIES are waiting for Bill Clinton to re-touch Delhi soil. In fact, the planner of Clinton’s visit to India, Mr Vinod Gupta, is already here and has even hosted a bash at one of the five-star hotels to herald Clinton’s arrival and perhaps his own arrival on the circuit, however, well camouflaged as a belated Father’s Day reception for his eighty plus father ..oops pop!

Gupta has every reason to celebrate — a one-time nobody is now CEO of infoUSA Inc. and the man who leaves no stone unturned to mouth his closeness to the Clinton clan …oops the Clinton parivar! Shouldn’t they be doing some “close up” ads or acts together. And if you were to query about a certain Ms Monica Lewinsky and the mouthful of poses he’d struck with her, well, since Yankees love bombing, they have bombed her out of that inconvenient framework and this India yatra builds a new image for Bill Clinton. That of a savior, of a man all out to help the hapless Indians, so far just about surviving without the Clinton touch.

In fact some critics point out that after US planes bombarded civilian sites in Iraq (in fact they continue to do so) the scene of devastation wasn’t much different than the one to be seen in and around earthquake devastated Bhuj.

But, then, he didn’t visit those sites and nor did he comment on the human tragedy and all that that goes along with reckless bombing. But now a new mantra takes off for him. And here, in Delhi, Clinton would stop briefly, on way to Gupta’s ancestral place in Saharanpur district of bifurcated Uttar Pradesh. And while he will be in Delhi, Prime Minister Vajpayee would be hosting a reception for him. The venue is not clear — whether it will be the Hyderabad House or those lush green lawns of his Race Course home here where not long back the Alice- In- Wonderland tea party was hosted for the so-called who’s who women of the Capital.

Then, the Director of the UN Information Centre, Mr Feodor Starcevic, hosted a reception for UN’s messenger of peace, Vijay Amritraj, who was on his way to Bhuj (sheer coincidence that his visit coincided with Clinton’s visit to Bhuj!).

In fact, in our very brief meeting Amritraj spoke of nothing else but of the breakfast-meet with Clinton. “…. At the breakfast I was amazed to see him place all possible ingredients on the burger and it became this big (not to worry Monica has told us all those details!) …but he’s an amazing guy and we got along very well …even Hillary is wonderful amazing couple.”

In fact Amritraj seemed so taken up with the Clintons that I was tempted to ask him whether there was some slight mix-up — that is whether he was the UN’s or the USA’s messenger of peace and much more. Anyway, Amritraj isn’t the only Indian to be in love with the Yankees (though he has every reason to be, after all he’s settled in the USA).

Last Monday evening the entire lot from the who’s who category were present at the book release function of Jacqueline Lundquist and Sam Celeste (wife and son of the outgoing American Ambassador to India, Richard Celeste) at the Maurya Sheraton lawns. Several heads of missions , some from our MEA, designers, decorators, writers, journalists, PR people and bureaucrats.

And this alone speaks volumes of the changing social order. No longer important or relevant is what you write but who writes it. And if you happen to be a somebody or the spouse of a somebody just about everybody will stand lined up to buy your book. Anyway, the couple who stood out that evening were Omar Abdullah and his wife Payal. He in a designer cream coloured Pathan suit and she in a embroidered sari stood out, as though far away from the valley and realities of the day.

More and more parties

Last weekend the Lebanese Ambassador to India, Dr Jean G. Daniel, hosted yet another Lebanese food evening at Taj Palace’s “Kafe Fontana”. It was a lovely evening — yes Lebanese cuisine is great and also stands out.

The fact is that the Ambassador is a splendid host. In fact, he is the most eligible bachelor in town — not because he is representing the country of Khalil Gibran’s birth but because he is warm and modest and, of course, a splendid host.

Spinsters take note of this. And the rest of you all can take note of the fact that the First Secretary in the Lebanese mission, Kabalan Frangieh, looks like a model though he is a career diplomat. “But please don’t write anything about my looks …you know it gets very embarrassing,” blushed Frangieh when hacks commented on his unconventional (great) looks.

Then, the French Ambassador to India, Bernard de Montferrand, hosted a reception for the launch of the English edition of Jean Alphonse Bernard’s “From Raj To The Republic — A Political History of India”. The same set of who’s who was present. Though I am no soothsayer but this set will not change till the social order remains where it is. Before moving on I must add that unlike other diplomatic dos the French do theirs at the Ambassador’s residence which adds a relaxed, informal touch!

Another tailpiece — this tail is forked

And before I end I must write that the expected round of transfers have been further postponed, because of the endless holidays. Meanwhile, there is speculation whether J&K’s Chief Secretary and the ex-husband of Jaya Jaitley, Ashok Jaitley, is marrying for the third time. Three years back there was a strong rumour that he was tying the knot with his friend/companion Sandhya Sharma. Not sure whether he actually married her or continued to live with or without her but this time he is all set to marrying theatre personality Sabina Sud, who is the ex-wife of one of our IFS officers, at present posted in Washington. So while Sabina would be going up the altar (that is, for the second time) he would be busy receiving Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, presently on a visit to Washington.

Tailpiece —one is for four!

A nice, relaxed party was hosted by a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and his ghazal singer spouse Anita, in honour of four of their friends who seemed to have been appointed at top positions at one go.

“It is a pleasant coincidence that four good friends, Arun Bharatram (President CII), Chirayu Amin (President FICCI ), Sushil Ansal (President PHD Chamber of Commerce) and Shekhar Bajaj ( who demitted office recently as President ASSOCHAM) happen to head the four apex chambers of commerce in India at the same time. So it was celebration time!”

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