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Indraprastha

Virendra Kapoor is a political commentator based in Delhi
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Raj Bhavan retention tricks, tentative legal tender and the Ministry for NRIs in Distress

WE ARE LIKE that only, aren’t we? Not long ago, a former Governor, keen to retain a well-appointed sarkari bungalow in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, devised a clever stratagem: he would make out a case on security grounds. So, he penned a couple of clumsily-worded letters to himself, threatening gruesome murder for his alleged role in sanctioning tough measures against a state-centric terrorist outfit during the time he officially occupied its Raj Bhavan. He was, however, in for a rude shock when the Housing Ministry forwarded the letters to the police for tracing their likely antecedents. Soon it was established that the writer was none other than the addressee himself. His Excellency now had no option. He hurriedly moved into his own private house in the capital.

Yet, the provision of an all-paid security detail at the discretion of the authorities has come to undermine the legitimacy of even the few who genuinely need state protection for acts undertaken in the larger public interest. It is, though, a status symbol, and it’s not uncommon in big cities to be confronted with vehicle-borne guards with the barrels of their weapons menacingly jutting out of windows, contemptuously shooing other traffic out of the way as their self-important masters whizz past.

In the rare case that the wealthy and influential fail to persuade the authorities to provide security, they go to great lengths to rig up their own private army of bodyguards, complete with hulky men wearing uniforms deceptively similar to those of the SPG commandos. The promoter of a well-known private university in Noida and a racketeer- industrialist once close to Samajwadi netas easily come to mind. The two can be seen moving around in the capital at break-neck speed with escort vehicles filled with gun-toting guards in imitation of SPG commandos in all their superficial get-up.

While still on security as a status symbol, the capital’s media circles are not the least bit puzzled why a Delhi- based editor was recently provided a full compendium of security detail by the UP government. The mobile unit shadows the controversial editor 24x7. It is hard to pinpoint the reason, especially when nothing published under his byline could possibly provoke a personal threat. Given the state of the law-and-order in UP, it does seem a criminal waste of manpower, particularly when the protectee is a permanent resident of Delhi.

Meanwhile, a word with a UP politician familiar with the goings-on in Lucknow has furnished the most likely reason our journalist friend has got himself men from the provincial armed constabulary for round-the- clock protection. Upon his ejection from a newly-launched regional TV channel, it seems, he feared that the promoters would try and forcibly re-possess the luxury vehicle they had placed at his disposal but which he was determined not to return. In response to his plea for help, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, locked in a bitter electoral contest with the BJP, perhaps thought nothing of assigning a dozen or so men to the task in return for positive press, even though the publication is barely seen or heard of in the Hindi heartland.

NOTEBANDI MAY NO longer dominate the national conversation, but in certain circles it seems to have made a lasting impression. Everyone has their own favourite notebandi story—and not only about how they gamed the system but also how some had their fingers burnt by the November 8th bombshell. Quite a few in the financial world believe that before long the newly introduced Rs 2,000 notes too will be scrapped—if not by an executive order, then through an RBI directive to banks not to issue such notes once they are deposited with them. The fact that the security presses are printing new Rs 1,000 notes, which ought to hit the market early in the coming financial year, has bolstered speculation about the eventual withdrawal of the larger notes. Meanwhile, a number of experts have made a case for the introduction of a new Rs 200 note on the argument that the gap between Rs 100 and Rs 500 has an inflationary impact in some subtle manner.

TRUST POLITICIANS TO dissect one another’s doings critically. Very often, such criticism is no more than a case of sour grapes. So, it was not surprising that the other day in the Central Hall of Parliament, that great hall of gossip, someone remarked that Sushma Swaraj’s ministry was to be renamed the ‘Ministry for NRIs in Distress’, especially now that the country’s foreign policy seems to have become ‘foreign’ to the Foreign Minister.

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