The central leadership of the Congress wants to present a secular image, but some of its state units have shown a different side. In the Maharashtra Assembly, the Congress was at the forefront in demanding the suspension of AIMIM MLA Waris Pathan, who refused to utter the slogan Bharat Mata ki jai. The Congress’s Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly, was adamant that an apology by Pathan was insufficient. In Madhya Pradesh, Jitu Patwari, a disciple of Digvijaya Singh, moved a resolution demanding a censure motion against Asaduddin Owaisi for his opposition to the Bharat Mata ki jai slogan. In Gujarat, Congress members have been supporting a group which was on a hunger fast demanding that cow be declared the national animal.
When he first took over as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi used to meet the heads of the IB and RA&W once a week. But now they seldom interact with the PM directly. NSA Ajit Doval is the intermediary who conveys to the PM the inputs from the two agencies. The heads of the two agencies are reportedly uncomfortable about the arrangement. Their duties also include briefing Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
Looking after aides
With less than a year and a half of his term left, President Pranab Mukherjee has ensured that five of his trusted aides are suitably accommodated by the government. His media adviser Venu Rajamony is likely to be posted as ambassador to Dubai. Thomas Mathew, his additional secretary, is to be given a position in the India Infrastructure Fund. His OSD, Suresh Yadav, is tipped to be sent to the World Bank. Another aide, Rajneesh, is likely to be appointed economic counsellor in the Indian High Commission in London. Gaitri Issar Kumar, his social secretary, is due for an appointment as ambassador. Only Omita Paul, his trusted secretary, is likely to remain with him till his retirement.
Sidhu loses out
A month ago, cricket commentator and former BJP MP from Amritsar Navjot Singh Sidhu was riding high. Arvind Kejriwal had publicly urged Sidhu to join his party. But of late, things haven’t been going so well. Sidhu has been sulking in the BJP ever since he had to make way for Arun Jaitley for the Amritsar seat in the 2014 general elections. Amit Shah had been trying to persuade Sidhu to stay back and, according to some reports, it was even suggested that Sidhu could be projected as state CM if the BJP broke up with the Akalis. However, the BJP-Akali alliance still holds and last week, the BJP denied Sidhu nomination to the Rajya Sabha from Punjab, instead giving it to Shwet Malik, the Amritsar mayor. Kejriwal is now unwilling to give Sidhu too much prominence if he were to join the AAP. Kejriwal believes he alone is the vote-getter for his party, no one else.
Some of the current problems of the Congress — whether it is the split of the legislative groups in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand or the defection to the BJP of Himanta Biswa Sarma, formerly the party’s key organiser in Assam — were triggered because the dissidents did not get an opportunity to meet party vice-president Rahul Gandhi in time to air their grievances. The problem is that Rahul’s over-protective aides do not give appointments easily and Congress leaders who travel from their states to meet him are stuck in the Capital for weeks. Such inaccessibility was characteristic of Indira Gandhi too, but then, she was a powerful prime minister who had many things on her plate. Congressmen quote the phrase, “Rassi jal gayee lekin bal nahi gaya (The rope has burnt but the knots remain)”, to describe the style of leadership.
The Rs 14 crore spent by the Ministry of Minority Affairs for funding an exhibition on the tiny, 60,000-strong Parsi community might seem excessive. But Everlasting Flame, a series of functions being held in Delhi, showcases the preservation of a civilisation that goes back to the Persian empire. Along with NDA ministers Arun Jaitley, Najma Heptulla, Mahesh Sharma and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Iran’s Minister of Islamic Culture Dr Ali Jannati also joined the festivities. A big portion of the budget for the event has gone into upgrading the National Museum in Delhi, which, until now, was unable to get loans because it lacked infrastructure. The rare exhibits on display include Parsi priest Meherji Rana’s scroll of his genealogy presented to Emperor Akbar, an opium clipper ship which came from Mumbai in a truck and the richly embroidered jhabla (dress) of Homi Bhabha when he was a baby.