Virendra Kapoor is a political commentator based in Delhi
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The expensive IIC elections, the cash rich spokesperson, and the lawyer who hawks liquor

THE INDIA International Centre (IIC), regarded as the capital’s premier intellectual and cultural hub, is in the throes of an election. Every two years, full members elect one representative to its Board of Trustees and two to its Executive Committee (EC). This time, four are in the fray for the Board seat while ten candidates compete for the two EC seats. Though no pecuniary or career gains are on offer, the contest has become fierce over the past few years. The IIC, a non- governmental body funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, might frown upon canvassing of any sort, but it is not hard to spot some candidates campaigning openly. For instance, yours truly has been spoken to on behalf of a contestant for the EC by a leading Delhi High Court lawyer and a veteran journalist. The votes of some of my bureaucrat friends have been solicited over the phone and in person.

Ordinarily, such zeal to be elected to the IIC management bodies should make little sense. However, certain intangibles must flow from such positions, which alone can explain why the aspirants spend such a lot of time and energy chasing fellow members for votes. Mercifully, so far there is no evidence of IIC members being wined and dined by rival candidates. Elections for honorary positions in other clubs such as the Delhi Gymkhana and Delhi Golf Club (DGC) are now an expensive affair, with major candidates spending freely to woo voting-members. A couple of years ago, a Customs officer contesting for leadership of the DGC hosted a no-expense-spared dinner at a posh hotel with the choicest of food and wine flowing freely. The bill was reportedly picked up by a client-friend of the host. This, however, proved insufficient for him to win the DGC lottery. In the last elections of the Gymkhana Club, a candidate for the club president’s post had his reputation mauled after a rival revealed that he had retired from the army at a lower rank than he led people to believe. He too lost the election.

Though things have not yet reached this level at the IIC, there is no denying that it hasn’t altogether remained unaffected by the general dumbing down seen across the social and cultural landscape of the capital. Unmindful of its founding charter, which lays emphasis on higher pursuits of an intellectual nature, IIC visitors can be excused for mistaking it as a centrally-located watering hole with multiple dining halls and tea lounges serving relatively wholesome food at reasonable prices. Only a handful of members seem keen to participate in discussions of a serious nature. Besides, the increasing renting out of facilities to outsiders for group meetings and events has virtually turned the otherwise elegant complex abutting the historic Lodi Gardens, and designed by the celebrated American architect, the late Joseph Allen Stein, into an open- ended banquet location. The desire to make ready money needs to be curbed, especially since IIC, a non-profit, is already sitting on considerable cash reserves.

PROXIMITY TO POWER can often corrupt, especially when one lacks a strong moral spine. It should, therefore, cause no surprise that a spokesperson of a political party is often seen dining at top- bracket restaurants. To the best of our knowledge, he has no known sources of current income. But what really raises eyebrows is that he is always flush with cash. It is not uncommon for him to insist on paying for his and his guests’ meals at five-star hotels with wads of crisp currency notes. Before demonetisation, he used to take out a wad of Rs 1,000 notes and offer to pay the bill even if you had actually invited him for lunch in order to get an inside track on what’s happening in his party in particular and the polity in general. Since his sole patron is a senior leader, perhaps it’s the latter who should worry about what such supposed surrogates are doing to his reputation.

LEAVING REAL identities undisclosed while reporting human foibles invariably whets curiosity. Some weeks ago, a Supreme Court lawyer was mentioned in this column who sold premium bottles of wine and whisky at a discount. Numerous acquaintances in the legal profession have since accosted yours truly on social occasions, wanting to know the name so that they could get these spirits at cut-rate prices. Surprisingly, a couple of senior lawyers had no difficulty zeroing in on the cheap-shot who regularly flogs gifted bottles of pricey hooch at a 15-20 per cent mark-down. A well-known PR professional with a multi-crore practice even phoned to check whether or not his guess was correct. He was pleased to have got it right on his very first try.