Virendra Kapoor

A nice old man, is Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Soft-hearted, you know, and caring and considerate.

Which is why he ordered what he ordered when Flight 814 was taken for an illegal ride: Nothing, repeat nothing, should be done to jeopardise the passengers' lives.

Resolving the crisis, Vajpayee told key aides, must be done in such a manner that everyone escape unscathed.

Vajpayee's directive was kept secret so as not to embolden the hijackers.

And away they flew...

The hijacking did not disturb the millennium plans of some.

Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi along with her family left the Capital for a remote island. Her deputy in Lok Sabha, Madhavrao Scindia, for his part, flew to a beach resort in Thailand with family.

Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, who emerged as the key person in the crisis resolution, was in total agreement with Vajpayee. The rest in the Cabinet either failed to contribute to the deliberations or harboured doubts about Vajpayee's strategy but chose not to oppose it openly.

Defence Minister George Fernandes, for instance, was not in the Capital for the first few days. When he returned, he agreed with Vajpayee on the overall strategy. But he was unhappy with the way the hijacked plane had been allowed to slip out of Amritsar.

Union Home Minister L K Advani entertained strong doubts about Vajpayee's strategy. He was opposed to a trade-off with the hijackers, but surprisingly refrained from articulating his doubts in the Cabinet meetings. Indeed, Advani fully endorsed every step the government took.

However Advani was fully aware of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's opposition against giving in to the hijackers. Its chief Professor Rajinder Singh had himself conveyed his views to Advani and a few other senior BJP leaders on the issue.

So when the government finally released three hardcore Kashmiri militants to buy the freedom of 160-odd hostages, Advani had his spin-doctors plant stories suggesting that he was against the deal.

The report suggesting that Advani opposed releasing the militants, thus, had emanated from one of his trusted aides.

Boys will be boys

Advani was none-too-happy at the stellar role that Jaswant Singh played behind the scenes and in front of the cameras during the Flight 814 crisis.

Singh, relying on a report by a private television channel, claimed that four of the five hijackers had boarded the flight in Kathmandu straight from a Pakistan International Airlines flight. Seizing the opportunity to pin down Singh, Advani's office directed senior IA officials to publicly deny the external affairs minister's charge.

Singh, in turn, was cut up with the prime minister's Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra for jumping the gun on the last day of the crisis when he flew to Kandahar with the three militants. Even before Singh reached Kandahar, Mishra had made the announcement.

Since he was the chosen one to brief the media, Singh reasoned that it was only appropriate that the final announcement about the resolution was left to him.

Also, Mishra's appearance on a foreign TV network after the resolution expounding his views on relations with Pakistan too riled Singh. The foreign office mandarins were particularly aghast that Mishra should allow himself to be questioned on weighty issues by 'little kids' who anchor prime time TV programmes.

Haggling over fees

Hindustani vocal maestro Pandit Jasraj recently performed for the New Delhi Municipal Corporation at its weekly open-air cultural programme in Delhi -- but not before creating a fuss about his fees.

Pandit Jasraj insisted on being paid a minimum of Rs 250,000 for a one-hour performance. The NDMC said its sanctioned limit for Grade-I artistes was only Rs 50,000.

The stand-off between what is easily the country's richest civic body and the top vocal maestro continued till a middleman stepped in. And lo! Pandit Jasraj was ready to perform for Rs 50,000!

The cause of the middleman's influence on the performer is not known, but he did succeed where others had failed. Panditji had but only condition: Invite former prime minister Narasimha Rao to listen to him.

Rao sat through the performance surrounded by securitymen.

Putting TRAI in place

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is about to have its wings clipped.

The chairman and members of TRAI have set themselves on a collision course with the government in the mistaken belief that they are above every authority, including Parliament. Besides, they espoused the cause of private telecom operators while hurting the interests of the state-owned Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited.

All this may change if the government comes out with the proposed ordinance enunciating afresh the powers and role of TRAI. The ordinance is due later this month.

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Chief Justice of India A S Anand travelled to Udaipur for the year-end in a luxury saloon attached to a train. Instead of staying in the Circuit House, which usually houses all VVIPs including the prime minister, he occupied an expensive suite in a princely palace-turned deluxe hotel.

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