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Rajnath Singh on probation

By Virendra Kapoor
January 11, 2006 17:47 IST
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Rajnath Singh on probation

Newly-appointed BJP chief Rajnath Singh is a decent man with a clean image. But, because his exposure in national politics has been rather limited, there is a genuine concern in party circles that he might come to grief due to his proximity to Pramod Mahajan and his hangers-on.

The Sangh Parivar grapevine is full of stories of how one of Mahajan's Delhi-based flunkies had sought to influence Singh when he was a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

A BJP member of the Rajya Sabha, whose term is due to end soon, is also desperately seeking a position in the party organisation, using his patrons in the corporate world.

How the new BJP chief steers clear of the dubious folk trying to win his confidence will be known in coming weeks.

A stinger stung badly

You have heard of successful sting operations, but what of the unsuccessful ones?

If you believe a Samajwadi Party leader, a woman claiming to be a journalist was commissioned by the ruling Congress Party to catch him in a sting operation.

The objective was to catch him accepting money to ensure that a huge piece of land in Greater NOIDA was allotted to the company she claimed she was representing.

The SP leader says he played along with the potential 'stinger' for several days, taking her calls, and stringing her along, only to shoo her away in a hail of unprintable expletives when she finally appeared at his door one morning, apparently armed with a hidden camera and a bagful of currency.

Wanted: Dignitary to release a book on Indira

Raghu Rai -- easily India's best known photographer, with several internationally acclaimed pictorial books to his credit -- has been sitting on his latest offering on the life and times of Indira Gandhi, unable to figure out whether or not to trust politicians.

And there hangs a tale revealing rather starkly who the most preferred member of the Nehru-Gandhi pantheon is.

To start at the beginning, a couple of months ago Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to release Rai's book on Indira Gandhi. Invitation cards for a function to be held on the lawns of the Prime Minister's Race Course Road complex were sent out to Delhi's who's who in cultural and media circles. Even a select group of politicians and former bureaucrats closely associated with Indira Gandhi agreed to be present.

But, two days before the function, the PMO inexplicably pleaded Dr Singh's inability to release the book, citing undisclosed last-minute demands on his time.

Rai was, however, assured that the prime minister would allot him time in a few days. That was a good three months ago. Since then, the PMO has fobbed him off on one pretext or another.

The poor fellow is flabbergasted, not knowing whether to trust the PMO or find someone else to do the honours. He will release his coffee table book though, as it has been a labour of love for him. After all, it is Indira who first spotted talent in the then gangly newspaper photographer in the early 1970s. A Padma Shri had also been bestowed on him.

Indeed, the mandatory portrait-like photograph of her as prime minister made available through the official network at home and abroad were clicked by Rai -- at her request.

Upon being told of Dr Singh's seeming reluctance to release the book, old-timers in the Congress confided to this reporter that for Sonia Gandhi, the only member of the Nehru-Gandhi family fit for memorialising is her late husband Rajiv. Indira was, as far as possible, to be shunned.

According to them, Indira had not endeared herself to the present Congress boss by her excessive fondness for younger son Sanjay Gandhi over Rajiv as her political heir.

HLL imprint over the media

The well-known soap and detergent maker Hindustan Lever Ltd may be rediscovering Western managers yet again, long after desis had deservedly come to occupy top positions in the FMCG major.

Demand for its former honchos hasn't diminished a wee bit in the indigenous corporate world though.

Why, even Indian media companies seem to be lapping up ex-HLL managers. Here is an off-the-cuff list of former top-shot Lever executives now associated with various media companies.

Former HLL chairman T Thomas heads the company that publishes the multi-edition Business Standard.

His successor at HLL, Ashok Ganguly, chairs the board of West Bengal's largest publishing conglomerate, the Ananda Bazar Patrika group, while Aniruddh Lahiri, another ex-Lever manager, is group CEO.

Ravinder Dhariwal and Richard Saldhana, formerly of HLL, are on the board of Bennett Coleman and Company that publishes, among other titles, The Times of India.

Keki Dadiseth, a former HLL chairman who retired recently as a director of the Unilever board, is set to join the new company formed by Bennett Coleman in association with the Reuters news agency for its long awaited television news channel.

And Sandeep Ghosh, a former HLL man, heads the managerial set-up of the recently launched Mumbai edition of The Hindustan Times.

Gives these managers quite a Leverage over the Indian media, doesn't it?

Corporate snooping

Private detectives were commissioned by a corporate house a few years ago to dig up dirt on BJP leader Jaswant Singh when the latter refused to play ball, disdainfully spurning all overtures made to him on behalf of the former.

With the sole objective of tarnishing his image, Singh, his family members and friends had their past scrutinised by a Delhi-based firm of private detectives.

The costly operation threw up nothing except the bit about Singh having got round the regressive Urban Land Ceiling Act by allegedly transferring some of his family's ancestral land holdings to the name of an old family retainer. That was it.

But it didn't prevent the corporate house from planting the story in newspapers to try and embarrass Singh who, by then, had become a minister in the Vajpayee government.

Helter-skelter in IIC

At last, India International Centre has limped back to normalcy.

The capital's most prestigious watering hole -- frequented by dignitaries and diplomats, media members, bureaucrats and, of course, some oddbods who had forced themselves in on extraneous grounds -- had come under a veritable siege these past few weeks ever since the management invited applications from new members.

Nearly 7,000 forms, each priced at Rs 200, were sold.

The managing committee intends to admit just 100 new members.

In the days before they stopped accepting applications, strangers were seen hovering around the premises, looking for members to either propose or second their nomination.

For IIC regulars, the membership drive proved quite irksome. They fervently hope the management will revert to the old system, shortlisting potential members and then inviting them to fill in application forms.

Abu Salem's widening net

A new scandal is waiting to burst into the political firmament.

The buzz among the police and other investigative agencies involved in the interrogation of gangster Abu Salem is that he has named an Opposition biggie as one of the beneficiaries of the West Asia-based crime syndicate.

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

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Virendra Kapoor