Monday, November 29, 1999

Did you say Swaziland and not Switzerland?

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New Delhi, May 16 (IANS) Any takers for a junket to Swaziland? Plenty it seems, especially if it's mistaken for Switzerland, as some legislators from Bihar did!When Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar prepared to go to Swaziland - a land-locked southern African country of a little over a million people - she asked her office to contact MLAs from Bihar to accompany her. Many MLAs literally vied with one another to go to Swaziland.But it looked like their enthusiasm did not last long. When they landed in Delhi, as the grapevine has it, they discovered they were going to Africa. 'We all thought we were going to Switzerland,' said a despondent legislator, admitting that not many of them had heard about a country called Swaziland.-*-After Tharoor, who?The external affairs ministry is having a tough time finding a replacement for the energetic Shashi Tharoor who quit in the wake of the Indian Premier League row.In the meantime, the divisions of Gulf, Africa and Latin America are sending their files and proposals to the sole minister of state, Preneet Kaur. But, as a senior official said, 'We are all waiting for the next minister of state'.Even as many insiders feel that Tharoor may be back in his post after the IPL controversy fades away, some names are doing the rounds as his successor. Deepender Singh Hooda, part of Rahul Gandhi's pack, and son of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, is one of them.-*-Going, going...not going?In the troubled India-Pakistan relations, there can never be one version of an event. So now no one knows for sure if Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is really going to Islamabad.Immediately after External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna spoke to his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi last week and decided to meet him in Islamabad July 15, the Pakistan foreign office went on an overdrive.In a bid to give an impression that the foreign minister-level meeting marked the resumption of composite dialogue, the Pakistani foreign office said Indian Foreign Secretary Rao would accompany Home Minister P. Chidambaram to Islamabad June 26 to lay the groundwork for July 15.But there was not a mention of Rao going to Islamabad in India's official statements. 'Did we ever say that?' is all a senior Indian diplomat would say.-*-Why Sonia keeps 'em waitingWhen the powerful lady of 10 Janpath is upset with errant party colleagues, how does she get it across? She takes time in granting them an audience.Congress sources said party general secretary Digvijay Singh, who had publicly criticised the anti-Maoist policy of Home Minister P. Chidambaram, had to wait for weeks for a meeting with the Congress president.Likewise, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who had embarrassed the party with his remarks in Beijing about the government's policy regarding Chinese companies, is also not likely to get an appointment with Sonia Gandhi any time soon, they say.-*-Now MEA babus will need to clock inThe external affairs ministry is following in the footsteps of the home ministry, as far as the attendance of babus is concerned. What has spurred it into action is a slew of right to information applications!The ministry's administration division got RTI pleas asking for the attendance records of certain officials. When the division started to look at the registers, it found that most of them were not maintained properly.So now a circular has been sent across the ministry, not just in South Block but also in other buildings, that attendance will have to be marked daily and a register will have to be maintained.-*-Beijing? DuckOnce bitten, twice shy. That seems to be the case with Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who, after last week's uproar that nearly cost him his job, is deftly ducking any more questions on China.At a function to sign a memorandum on mapping of the coastal hazard line, never-say-die reporters tried all tricks to spice up their copy. Can his ministry do the hazard mapping in China, asked one clever journo.Ramesh, who has been ticked off by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his Beijing remarks, passed it on to his colleague, Minister for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan.'If China is open to it we are ready to do it,' Chavan quipped.-*-A defence secretWoman power has worked its magic in the defence ministry - it's an in-house secret and one that Defence Minister A.K. Antony took pride in airing in public for a change.At a defence accounts conference, Antony spoke highly of two women officers handling defence finance. He lavishly praised Indu Liberhan, secretary, Defence Finance; and Nita Kapoor, Defence Accounts head.Antony said it was some sort of defence secret for him to understand how woman power had infused transparency and efficiency into defence expenditure and procurement issues that often turn into fodder for scandal and speculation.-*-Antony needs no introductionEven before his name was announced, Defence Minister A.K. Antony quickly got up from his seat and rushed towards the podium to speak at a function in the capital. While walking towards the mike, the mundu-clad minister stopped the compere from introducing him.'Stop, stop,' he said, as the compere began rhapsodising about the 69-year-old Kerala politician's clean image and the transparency he has brought into the defence ministry.-*-Whiners and dinersDisappointment was writ large on the faces of many of the 700-odd guests who had gathered at 3, Krishna Menon Marg, the official residence of the Chief Justice of India, where Justice K.G. Balakrishnan hosted his farewell dinner. The reason: no booze.Defying the Delhi culture of 'wining and dining', Balakrishnan decided not to serve liquor. The guests, who included judges, lawyers, dignitaries and others from different walks of life, were evenly split into whiners and diners. The whiners craved for wine while the diners seemed to revel in the former's agony.

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