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Delhi Diary
One of Manmohan Singh’s unrecognised strengths is that his friends and rivals constantly underestimate his political instincts. He is not a soft touch; he is a survivor.
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A Lion in That Singh

There is much talk once again of a huge lacuna in Manmohan Singh’s make-up. You see, goes the argument, since he is by training a bureaucrat, he does not understand the nuances and nastiness of party politics. Consequently, he frequently finds himself in an avoidable mess. I have been hearing this narrative for the last seven years in various shapes and sizes. It is (excuse the expression) nonsense. Could a non-politician have run UPA-I and UPA-II which has such tricky customers as Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, not to mention M. Karunanidhi? Could a non-politician have so effortlessly ditched the Left, secretly roped in Mulayam Singh Yadav and got the N-deal through? He may be a straightforward guy, but he is no chump. Despite all the crises UPA-I and UPA-II have faced, despite all the loose chatter about Sonia and Manmohan falling out, the prime minister has comfortably stayed the course.

Just consider with what skill and style he has defused the politically explosive P.J. Thomas affair. Whatever his compulsions for the original decision to appoint Thomas, once the deed was done and the predictable consequences followed, Dr Manmohan Singh took an uncomplicated yet effective route which only a consummate politician could have crafted. By accepting “full responsibility” personally and admitting an “error of judgement”, he may not have removed all the doubts about why he and Chidambaram made the foolhardy decision, but he left the BJP little room for manoeuvre. The confusion which followed in the ranks of the parivar bears testimony to that. Incidentally, even Manmohan Singh’s opponents will concede that while the wrong choice of a central vigilance commissioner was a grave lapse, it was not a resigning lapse.

One of Manmohan Singh’s unrecognised strengths is that his friends and rivals constantly underestimate his political instincts. He is not a soft touch; he is a survivor. The BJP, which also has many survivors, should first of all, in its own interests, recognise that reality. Then they can probably unseat him.


Tales of a Dictator

Now that Muammar Gaddafi is the flavour of the month (I believe there are 112 different ways to spell his name), let me recount the story of two flamboyant Indian editors, R.K. Karanjia (Blitz) and Ayub Syed (Current) who, alas, are no longer with us. Both made annual visits to Gaddafi’s tent in Tripoli. Ayub, who could be disarmingly candid, once mentioned to me that he was off to Libya to meet the great leader. “I never forget to take two empty suitcases with me when I meet him and on the way back I always stay for one day at Zurich.” Russi was much more cunning and made no such admission, but he also went on his annual pilgrimage and came back loaded. At that time these were the only two journalists/editors who had direct contact with Gaddafi. Incidentally, it was one of these gentlemen who came back with the offer Gaddafi made to Indira Gandhi: sell me the bomb technology and India will never be short of oil.

One afternoon Ayub was buying me lunch. He looked relaxed and seemed in no hurry to get back to the office. I was. When I asked him to call for the bill, he said, “What is your hurry? For the next two weeks I have no work. My issues are full of The Green Book.” (This was a Gaddafi-authored manual on how to run a country undergoing a perpetual people’s revolution). And then he laughed uproariously.


Put Them to the Test

I yield to no one in my love for Test and one-day cricket. The World Cup, however, needs some serious editing. The build-up to the quarter-final stage is a protracted and often boring affair. Sure, the minnows, as they are called, need encouragement and big match exposure, but do we need six of them? When Bangladesh play Kenya, or the Netherlands play Zimbabwe, there is hardly a spectator on the ground. I suggest the six novice teams play qualifying matches among themselves, with the two top teams made eligible for the World Cup. That makes for 10 teams instead of 14. This method would make the tournament tighter.

And while I am on the subject of the World Cup, it’s wonderful to have such a galaxy of star commentators (where’s our Geoffrey?). However, even here there are one or two minnows. Danny Morrison’s fake enthusiasm and endless jokes can become irritating. The best commentator? Undoubtedly, Nasser Hussain.


Scotching the Rumour

Never justify, never explain is a sound principle to follow. However, I am going to break it. The critical Blue Label Scotch whisky controversy, which upset many readers, does call for justification and explanation. It is not my customary tipple since the price is well out of my range. The excessive intake I confessed to in my last column was precisely because I had never drunk the nectar before and am not likely to drink it again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime indulgence.

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