She may be 88 but age has not withered Kapila Vatsyayan’s spirit. As one of the four life trustees of Delhi’s prestigious India International Centre (IIC), Vatsyayan, the Gandhi family’s favourite cultural czarina, is now fighting to be declared president of the IIC. The decision is made by the IIC’s five-member board of trustees (one trustee, Vipin Malik, is an elected member). The problem is that Vatsyayan has only one backer, Jammu & Kashmir Governor N N Vohra. The other three trustees, Soli Sorabjee, Justice Sri Krishna and Malik, favour the continuance of jurist Sorabjee for a second term. On various technical grounds, the board has held three elections since December, and each time the verdict has been exactly the same. However, Vatsyayan has not thrown in the towel. (After all, she had retained control of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts for well over two decades, before finally being turfed out by the Modi government.) Her supporters tried to raise the issue recently at an IIC annual general body meeting and get the meeting adjourned. Vatsyayan perseveres despite her infirmities. She carries tiny magnifying lenses to meetings, gets the reports read out to her and frequently asks the director to repeat the remarks of other members. Vatsyayan still retains her position as chairpersonship of the Asia Project, which is located at and funded by the IIC. But Malik points out that no formal approval by the board has been obtained since 2003 for the continuance of Asia Project’s cozy arrangement with the IIC.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s elder sister and well-known author Gita Mehta has left her home in New York to look after him for the last two months, leading to speculation that she could be his political heir. But last week, Patnaik declared publicly that his sister was not interested in politics. Actually, it is not the family which is the power behind the throne but Patnaik’s all-powerful private secretary, IAS officer V Karthikeyan Pandian. BJD members, who saw the phenomenal rise of the BJP in the state during the February panchayati elections, fear that the CM may be losing his Mr Clean image and that the party may be heading the AIADMK way. Comparisons are being drawn between Pandian and Sasikala. Today Pandian has more clout than even the late Pyari Mohan Mohapatra at his peak and runs not just the government but also the party, since Patnaik is in frail health. A regional TV channel poll listed Pandian as the third most powerful man in the state after Patnaik and the BJP’s Dharmendra Pradhan.
Policemen at the Chanakyapuri police station were unmoved when an unaccompanied woman walked in and demanded that they take action against four inebriated youth on motorbikes who were following her car. It was only when, in an authoritative voice, she demanded that the youth be subjected to a breathalyser test that the penny finally dropped. The policemen went into overdrive when they realised that the complainant was Smriti Irani. Even the men, who were trying to videograph her in a moving car, protested their innocence, pleading that they didn’t realise it was the Union minister they were trailing, since she was travelling without her PSO and had no red beacon.
Leading the pack
Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) leader Anbumani Ramadoss is understandably upset. North Indian papers have given credit to a Chandigarh-based activist, Harman Sidhu, for filing the PIL against hotels serving liquor on highways, which led to the blanket Supreme Court ban. Sidhu, who is not a teetotaler, says he now regrets his action since the court order was too drastic. In fact, Sidhu’s PIL was one of a batch of PILs, the first one being filed by K Balu, a member of the PMK, which has made total prohibition one of its key planks. It is K Balu’s name which actually figures in the legal records.
Despite an anti-incumbency handicap, Amit Shah is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that Narendra Modi’s home state, Gujarat, remains with the BJP after the Assembly elections this year. The BJP has been in power there for 25 years. Cynics suggest that there could be a repeat of 2012, when rebel Keshubhai Patel’s party split the anti-incumbency vote. This time too, apart from the Congress, there will be several opposition parties in the fray, such as the AAP, BSP, Shiv Sena and NCP. The NCP, which has three MLAs in the present Assembly, recently opened several new offices in different parts of the state, with Praful Patel overseeing the operations.