It may not have been the best of times to take a vacation; it may not have been the worst either. As a despondent UPA government headed into the general elections in April-May this year, 11 of its Union ministers made 15 personal trips abroad. Of them, six applied to go to evergreen Dubai, including Praful Patel, Milind Deora, Shashi Tharoor, K Rehman Khan, Sharad Pawar and K Suresh.
The UPA ministers who took clearance to travel to places other than Dubai around the time of the polls were Praful Patel (for London, Zurich, May 5-12, and Malaysia, April 16), Sharad Pawar (London, May 1-7), Kapil Sibal (Istanbul, Prague, May 7-14) and Farooq Abdullah (Saudi Arabia, March 9-14).
Then Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh headed out to Dubai for five days just after polling got over (May 24-28). He had earlier gone to the city in January 2-7, the same month that Tharoor made his first visit to Dubai this year. Then Minister of State, External Affairs, E Ahamed was also there that month.
The Indian Express received this data in response to RTI applications seeking information about Union ministers granted clearance by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office for travel abroad in their personal capacity this year. There is an off chance that some minister might have cancelled his/her trip even after getting both the required clearances.
While Ajit Singh, Tharoor, Sibal, Rehman Khan and K Suresh confirmed they had travelled abroad, Pawar and Praful Patel did not respond while some ministers could not be contacted. Tharoor said, “It was a personal visit to meet my family with no cost to the government at all. All the official approvals and clearances were obtained in advance.”
Among those who received clearances from both the MEA and PMO (for a trip to Austria, May 7-13) but didn’t travel was Sachin Pilot. Former minister of state, Civil Aviation, K C Venugopal applied for a personal trip to Dubai but then decided not to go. He requested the PMO to clear his proposed visit to Dubai and Turkey in April 22-26 but later withdrew the application. PMO said his proposal “not processed as formal proposal and political clearance not received”.
Rajeev Shukla got clearance from the MEA and PMO to visit Malaysia (March 9-10) but, as he told The Indian Express, cancelled his trip. While he later got the MEA’s clearance to visit the US, UK and France during June 1-30 on a personal trip, the PMO said the request was “not processed as the Council of Ministers resigned”.
Former MoS, Power, Jyotiraditya Scindia got clearance for at least three personal trips this year, including to the UK (January 25-February 1), Dubai (February 22-28) and, after the results, to the UK and Italy (June 7-25). He could not be contacted for confirmation.
During his March 1-2 Dubai visit, then agriculture minister Pawar was accompanied by his officer on special duty D K Singh. He visited on the invitation of BJP Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka Prabhakar M Kore to inaugurate a school. The school website has a photograph of him at the inauguration.
Then Union minister for new and renewable energy sources Farooq Abdullah took permission to visit Saudi Arabia in March 9-14. In the elections held just over a month later (April 30), he suffered his first electoral defeat ever. Abdullah did not respond to queries from The Indian Express.
His son and J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also made several personal trips while the election process was on (chief ministers/ministers of state governments do not need clearance from the PMO, though the MEA processes their applications). He was cleared to go to the UK between February 26 and March 3 — to questions regarding number of companions, he specified just ‘private trip’ — and Singapore during May 6-12. Omar applied and got permission to again visit the UK in June (20-29).
Apart from applying to visit Dubai (April 18-20) and Europe (May 5-12) while he was still a minister, Praful Patel got clearance to go to Brazil (June 7-14) after the UPA was voted out of power. He got the clearance on May 9, before the results.
Kamal Nath took permission from the MEA to visit Dubai, in “the third week of April 2014”. Milind Deora and Minorities Affairs Minister K Rehman Khan’s visits appear to have coincided, May 4-7 and May 4-8, respectively. Khan was there with his wife. MoS Labour K Suresh was in Dubai just before them (April 23-May 4). Nath and Deora could not be contacted.
Then UPA ministers weren’t the only ones headed for Dubai. Kerala minister M K Muneer got clearance to visit the city during June 2-7, having earlier applied for a visit in March 21-22. Roshan Beig, a Karnataka minister, wanted to be in the city for one day, on January 30. G Arun Kumari, a former Andhra Pradesh minister, took permission to visit Dubai during January 10-13 along with “family members”, while Chhattisgarh’s minister Amar Agrawal applied to be there with his wife from February 28 to March 4.
Orissa Governor S C Jamir too wanted to visit Dubai, during February 16-23.
Uttar Pradesh Minister for Panchayati Raj Kamal Akhtar took clearance to visit Dubai in June (13-19), while another UP minister, Feroz Mehmood Kidwai, sought to visit Dubai in February 20-25.
Haryana Speaker Kuldeep Sharma got clearance to visit Dubai along with his wife during January 6-15, while Deputy Speaker Mohammed Akram Khan took permission to visit Sydney between June 21 and July 5 on a personal trip along with three family members. Haryana minister Kiran Chaudhary applied to visit Singapore during June 20-30.
The MEA cleared Maharashtra leader Narayan Rane’s London visit (April 27-May 10), while another minister, Fauzia Tahseen Khan, applied to go to Houston, US (April 25-May 12). Patangrao Kadam, another Maharashtra minister, wanted to be in Italy in May (1-8).