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The chutney and ketchup minister

india Updated: Sep 18, 2009 01:40 IST
Kumkum Chadha

A chance remark by Rajiv Gandhi on the breakfast table triggered the creation of the food processing ministry, now headed by Subodh Kant Sahay. He recalls how Gandhi, while having his cornflakes, remarked: “For how long will we eat imported cornflakes? Why not our own?”

Created 20 years ago, the ministry had an identity crisis of sorts. Not many knew what it was all about. Despite heading it in 2004, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh renamed Sahay as its head, Sahay reportedly told the PM that chutneys and ketchup were not his scene.

For the record, Sahay was told that his ministry was crucial for agriculture. Off the record, there were indications of his being called upon to play a crucial role in his home state, Jharkhand. The state unit needed to gear up and there was a move to replace the present incumbent. Sahay’s supporters may give their right arm to see him head the party in the state but they will have to combat resistance from the rank and file. Add to this, the fact that Sahay is a Kayastha by caste.

“No one except a tribal should head the state unit,” said Roshan Lal Bhatia, former vice-president of the Congress’s Jharkhand unit.

Bhatia had spearheaded an anti-Sahay move in the Congress on the ground that he was named in the Jain Commission report for scaling down Rajiv Gandhi’s security when he was out of power.

Sahay was Union Minister of State for Home when Chandrashekhar was Prime Minister. The Jain Commission was set up to probe the circumstances leading to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

Born in Palamau in what was originally Bihar and is currently in Jharkhand, Sahay was an activist even in school. He started off as a communist, keeping Lenin’s picture close to his heart. In later years he was involved in the Jayaprakash Narayan-led students’ movement in Bihar.

His legislative career began in 1978. Ten years later he was elected to Parliament.

Christened as Chandrashekhar’s blue-eyed boy, Sahay virtually ran the government during Chandrashekhar’s brief tenure as PM. This is his third term as an MP and fifth as a Union minister. “He misleads the people,” said BJP’s state unit president Raghubar Das, adding, “Jharkhand has not gained anything during his tenure as minister. He is in Ranchi more and Delhi less.”

Likely places to spot him: inside a pyramid with a bowl in his hand in a bid to draw cosmic energy or in Saturn’s temple with ash smeared on his body or at a Sai Baba temple. He put on weight because his mother said he was lanky.

Touched 100 kilos because he could not stop eating. She packed him off to a weight management consultant who fed him diet pills and sprouts instead of laddoos. He lost two things: a little bit of weight and most of his hair.