ISI agent in Parliament! Virendra Kapoor

In the Cold War era, the CIA had become a dirty word in much of the developing world.

Politicians settled their personal scores by dubbing their rivals "CIA agents". India too was sucked in by this syndrome, with the Congress tending to be overtly supportive of the Soviet cause and anti-Congress politicians deriding India's love for that power.

Thus was it that at the height of her power and glory, Indira Gandhi took to calling her detractors "CIA agents". Of course, without an iota of evidence.

That was why in the early 1970s, the leader of the defunct Swatantra Party, Piloo Mody, mocked Indira Gandhi his way.

He appeared in Parliament one fine day after he had been called a US stooge once too often with a huge badge on his considerable torso.

'I AM A CIA AGENT,' it proclaimed.

Now, some 26 years later, BJP leader Dr J K Jain surfaced in the Central Hall of Parliament earlier this week copying Mody. He had pinned to his stomach and back two handwritten papers.

'AM I AN ISI AGENT?' asked one, while the second wondered, 'IS JAIN TV AN ISI ORGAN?'

Former prime minister Chandra Shekhar, far from offering him solace, reminded him how when he was the PM Jain had insisted on his meeting arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi.

Dr Jain, he pointed out, had invited Shekhar to a dinner that he hosted to honour Khashoggi.

Dr Jain blamed Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to the prime minister, for his present plight and threatened to expose Mishra's alleged misdeeds.

In case you need a memory jog, an intelligence report had warned about Dr Jain's alleged ISI links. Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj had told Dr Jain about the 'for your eyes only' input.

This led Dr Jain to send an angry letter to the PM, protesting his innocence and alleging a conspiracy behind the charge.

Dr Jain was keen to feed television news to the State-owned Doordarshan. When he failed to get the contract, he asked Swaraj the reason.

And she referred to the intelligence report against him!

Cheap surgery

The bill for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's knee surgery has been submitted by Bombay's Breach Candy hospital.

It is only Rs 170,000.

New York-based surgeon Dr Chittranjan Ranawat has not charged a paise. The bill for the three rooms in the hospital taken up by the PM's staff might be another Rs 300,000.

In any case, the total cost is unlikely to exceed Rs 1 million.

In sharp contrast, former prime minister V P Singh's medical expenses thus far have cost the taxpayers close to Rs 100 million.

No teeth, but plenty of bark

The draconian Foreign Exchange Regulation Act has been watered down to the much milder Foreign Exchange Management Act. But the Enforcement Directorate babus are yet to change their arbitrary ways.

Even after the ejection of someone as 'nice' as Ashok Aggarwal from the ED, the former deputy director now facing a slew of cases, they continue to behave intolerably. Sample two recent cases.

In the first, the agency has asked a businessman to provide it copies of his old passport so that it can figure out where and when he had made foreign trips in the last two decades.

Now how do you expect anyone to retain his old passport? Even if one has the good sense to do so, why should one part with it? So the ED can implicate him on some silly charge?

The second is far worse. Taking note of a magazine interview of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan's head in India, the directorate dashed off a show cause notice, without caring to read the relevant law and requisite permissions for the Bhavan to receive donations for implementing its highly commendable projects.

That the Bhavan is now engaged in setting up computer centres in various towns and cities in India for the benefit of a large number of economically disadvantaged people was not important to the directorate.

That Prime Minister Vajpayee and President K R Narayanan had lauded the Bhavan, too, was of no consequence.

The babus were merely interested in having the Bhavan bosses to pay their obeisance to them!

Redundant no more

The prime minister, while taking a dim view of the ministers of state who complained in unison of no work, has nonetheless set in motion a process that would result in Cabinet ministers entrusting their juniors with some powers.

Vajpayee has asked a detailed report of the work allocated to each junior minister.

Let's hope that this mitigates the feeling of redundancy among the smallies.

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