Small is gossip
``Why don't you write serious articles instead of gossip?'' is the all-too-frequent gratuitous advise offered to this columnist and no doubt to every writer who opts for the short, punchy and to-the-point news snippet rather than reams of political punditry. The airy assumption is that small is less credible and can be dismissed superiorly as `mere gossip'.
The advantage of lengthy, tedious prose on politics is that you can hedge your bets with enough ifs, buts and maybes. The `gossip writer' however, can't run for cover since he is given just enough wordage for the bare essentials. Minus crutches, the news has to stand on its own. In fact last week's and very often even last month's `gossip' items end up as front-page headlines suitably fleshed out.
A `gossip' writer learns fast that the more accurate the report, the more likely it is that important people will scream ``lies, damned lies and gossip'' even while studiously avoiding penning a letter of denial.
In the last threemonths alone, whether it was George Fernandes sending his bureaucrats to the Siachen glacier, MPs purchasing their laptop computers at cut-rate prices, Sushma Swaraj not getting her way in passing a new Prasar Bharati bill or removing the CEO, S.S. Gill, the MDMK's Vaiko distancing himself from Jayalalitha, Sonia hesitating to play ball with Jayalitha, Pramod Mahajan's departure from the PMO or the RSS asking Advani to counter Vajpayee's soft line vis-a-vis allies it all appeared first in so-called gossip columns. But who is going to give a mere gossip writer any credit!
Since she has temporarily put her main demand for the dismissal of the Karunanidhi government on hold, Jayalalitha has come up with another imperious edict: the transfer of revenue secretary N.K. Singh. The AIADMK's Minister of State for Personnel, Banking and Revenue R. Janarthanan has written a note seeking Singh's replacement by the present banking secretary, C.M. Vasudev. Jayalalitha blames Singh fordoing nothing whatsoever about her demand to slap FERA cases against the DMK's Murasoli Maran whose son runs Sun TV and the TMC's P. Chidambaram. She also believes that it was Singh who leaked the news about the large-scale transfer of income tax officials by former Minister of State for Finance R.K. Kumar, who got the boot shortly afterwards.
Normally, transferring a secretary should be a simple matter and the BJP ought to be happy to find an issue in which it can easily oblige a cantankerous ally. But the problem is that the secretary Jayalalitha has singled out is no ordinary bureaucrat. Singh's blue-ribbon connections have ensured he gets his way in every government and the BJP regime is no exception.
Pet project stymied
One of her first acts when Maneka Gandhi took over as Minister of State for Social Welfare was to request that the tiny Animal Welfare Department, at present with the Environment Ministry, be transferred to her ministry since animals are one of her priorities and she hasseveral ambitious projects in mind. Nobody in the Environment Ministry objected, Minister for Environment Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu happily signed the file transferring the department and so did Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. But the file has still to reach Gandhi. There are enough bureaucrats to quibble and question how animal and human welfare can be clubbed, though why it should be more logical to have the department in the Environment Ministry is not clear.
It is customary when a new government comes to power for a photographer to take an official portrait of the new prime minister for use in government offices and our missions abroad. But for some reason Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has been reluctant to pose formally for a cameraman. The Press Information Bureau had per force to use its old stock of Vajpayee photos.Not all Vajpayee's ministers in any case feel it obligatory to keep a portrait of the Prime Minister in their office. Earlier minister R. Janarthanan hung ahuge portrait rather like a cut-out of his Puratchi Thalaivi Jayalalitha and a smaller one of the Prime Minister. Now he has changed the room decor so that there is a smaller picture of Jayalalitha on his desk but Vajpayee has disappeared altogether.
Posts to offer
Thanks to the Prasar Bharati Bill, Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj discovered soon after taking charge that there was very little patronage to dispense in her new ministry, though many BJP media groupies had rosy dreams. The death of Prasar Bharati Chairman Nikhil Chakravartty and the retirement of Press Council Chairman Justice P. B. Sawant in August may have finally paved the way for her to oblige at least two saffron camp followers. Since the Prasar Bharati chairman is chosen by a panel of three; the Vice-President, the Press Council Chairman and a nominee of the Government, it is a moot point whether the Government will wait till Sawant retires before filling the vacancy caused by Chakravartty's death.
Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.