When the doyenne of Indian theatre Zohra Sehgal died this July at the age of 102, there were condolence messages from scores of leading statesmen and politicians, including President Pranab Mukherjee and Sonia Gandhi. But despite her Padma Vibhushan and the many accolades she received both in this country and abroad, the same Indian officialdom had callously disregarded the grand old lady’s small request of a ground-floor flat in her last days. Now, two months after Sehgal’s death, her daughter, dancer Kiran Sehgal, has received a copy of a note from an under secretary in the Urban Development Ministry to the DDA vice-chairman asking him to look into Sehgal’s request. Immobile and confined to her room on the third floor in her last years, Sehgal had longed for a small ground-floor flat so that she could go out on a wheelchair and get some fresh air. In 2011, she had requested then Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit for a ground-floor flat, but received no response. An application to Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar through then MP Shyam Benegal had also been unsuccessful. The stark reply was that people over 60 were not eligible for government housing. She had applied to the Sangeet Natak Akademi for accommodation under the scheme for eminent artistes. She was turned down. Former minister for culture Chandresh Kumari Katoch didn’t help. Sehgal had written a letter then to Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung but received no response. Her letter to the President went unanswered.
When Narendra Modi was holding his introductory session with MPs from Uttar Pradesh, he asked each of them to introduce themselves and give a description of their CVs. When it was the turn of Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Kalraj Mishra, he did not speak but signalled to his neighbour on the right to say his piece. The veteran Mishra, 73, who has been a minister in the Uttar Pradesh government, president of the state BJP and a Rajya Sabha MP, clearly felt that it was beneath his status to explain to the gathering who he was. He had not bargained that the Prime Minister was in no mood to make exceptions for anyone. Modi queried sarcastically whether there was a separate rule for Mishra. The minister hastily got up to recite his bio-data.
Across party lines
Last week, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani inaugurated a dandiya raas workshop organised by NGO Lok Utsav, which is run by former Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit and his wife Mona. The venue was Sardar Patel Vidyalaya in Delhi, where Irani has just enrolled her two children. Over the years, this school has attracted pupils whose parents represent all sections of the political spectrum. Manmohan Singh’s grandson was a pupil, so was Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ward. Sitaram Yechury, Subramanian Swamy, Kapil Sibal, Harsh Vardhan, Jairam Ramesh, Shanti Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav are all parents of Sardar Patel alumni.
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This is obviously the season for tell-all books. Sanjaya Baru and Natwar Singh started the trend, and now others are following suit. Former TV anchor Rajdeep Sardesai is coming out shortly with a book on the recent parliamentary elections and what went on behind the scenes. Former Congress environment minister Jairam Ramesh is writing not one but three books. One on the environment, another on land acquisition and a third on the Maoists. The books will explain the how and why of certain controversial decisions taken by the UPA.
Congress persons are unanimous that Vinod Rai was a disastrous choice as the Comptroller and Auditor General. The CAG reports under his tenure pinpointed many acts of omission and commission by key members of the Manmohan Singh government and gave the Opposition abudant opportunity to attack the Congress. Many in the party were curious as to who was responsible for Rai’s selection to the post. Rai, it seems, was the choice of former finance minister P Chidambaram, and Manmohan Singh’s principal secretary T K A Nair backed him. The party high command had actually wanted to appoint Sanjeev Mishra, an outstanding Gujarat-cadre officer. He was, however, not selected because he had once worked under L K Advani when he was Union home minister.