In his biography The Z Factor, television mogul Subhash Chandra has been extraordinarily candid about his past. He acknowledges what was long suspected: that he profiteered enormously from dubious rice deals with the Soviets in the early 1980s. He was awarded a lucrative contract to export basmati to Russia on the understanding that he would share 50% of his profit with his benefactors in the Congress party. Chandra confesses that it was Rajiv Gandhi who steered the deal his way through his aide Vijay Dhar. Chandra writes that he deposited half the share of profits, first with Dhirendra Brahmachari, then with Sitaram Kesri and finally with Arun Nehru. An interesting sidelight to the story is that while the Soviets were paying for expensive basmati rice, Goyal cut corners by mixing basmati with the cheaper ‘parmal’ variety. The Russians, unfamiliar with the various grades of Indian rice, assumed that he was cheating them since their long-standing rice supplier, Tulsi Tanna, had only been supplying parmal and they thought parmal was the better-quality rice. Chandra did not argue with the Russians, but made even bigger profits by exporting only parmal henceforth.
At a luncheon party at minister for communications Ravi Shankar Prasad’s residence, when BJP president Amit Shah was questioned by journalists on the poor state of the economy, Shah retorted that the state of the economy should be judged not in terms of the rupee, but in terms of kilograms and litres. Several journalists wondered what he meant. What Shah wanted to say was that the per capita consumption of staple goods had increased even if the price of the rupee had fallen. At the same party, finance minister Arun Jaitley was offered numerous suggestions on how to fix the fiscal deficit. He joked that in India while most people are known to see themselves as experts on health and cricket, the new trend is to give advice on how to manage the economy.
The oldest invitee at the Beating the Retreat function this year was 90-year-old ND Tiwari, a veteran Congressperson who has served over the years as a central minister, chief minister and governor. He came in a wheelchair steered by his son Rohit Shekhar, who was attired in identical clothes as his father, right down to the Gandhi cap. A few years ago, a court, acting on a paternity suit Shekhar filed, had declared him to be Tiwari’s son.
Vice-president Hamid Ansari was keen to study the 1920 law, which created Aligarh Muslim University and asked the Parliament House library to send a copy of the Act to his office. The Parliament House library could not oblige since the only available copy is in a very poor condition and the pages crumble easily. The document could not be removed from the bookshelf and transported. An attempt to microfilm the papers proved futile since the microfilm was unreadable when magnified. It was suggested that the vice-president personally visit the library. Instead, someone from his office was sent to clarify a particular date.
Natarajan, the husband of Jayalalithaa’s aide Sasikala, had managed to persuade President Pranab Mukherjee to attend his Pongal celebrations in Chennai on January 12. However, Mukherjee’s proposed visit was scuttled after the Tamil Nadu CM put her foot down and objected to a presidential visit at that point of time. Natarajan was, however, present at the President’s ‘At Home’ function at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Republic Day. He was seen talking to BJP ministers and other dignitaries and discussing the forthcoming Tamil Nadu elections. IAS and IPS officers from the Tamil Nadu cadre kept a safe distance from him. They feared that if they were seen even greeting him, the news would be conveyed back to Amma and they might be blackballed.
Misusing his name
Initially, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar wanted to appoint Madan Mohan Jha as HRD minister in his council of ministers. But CP Joshi, Congress general secretary incharge of Bihar, informed the CM that Rahul Gandhi was keen that Ashok Choudhary, Bihar Congress president, be given the HRD portfolio. Recently, when the Bihar CM met Rahul, he pointed out that Choudhary had been made HRD minister on his request. A shocked Rahul made it clear that he had made no such suggestion. Subsequently, Choudhary has had a tough time getting an appointment with the Congress vice-president. Mukherjee has expressed himself strongly against disruptions on several occasions. He refers to the “three Ds necessary for democracy”: debate, deliberation and decision-making.