Prime Minister Narendra Modi turned down the Shiv Sena demand that industrialist Venugopal Dhoot be accommodated in the Cabinet. The Sena had to per force nominate Anant Geete instead. Also, the Sena was furious that it could not get the portfolio of its choice. It wanted Civil Aviation (Geete got Heavy Industries), but this was refused on the grounds that the party controls civil aviation unions in Maharashtra and it would have been viewed as a conflict of interest.
Smriti Irani’s elevation as HRD Minister has upset a lot of party seniors. What was particularly irking was that, at the oath-taking ceremony, Irani was called ahead of two veterans, Harsh Vardhan and Maneka Gandhi, indicating that she is above them in the pecking order despite their greater experience. One interpretation of Irani’s position is that she will be a front while the RSS packs the ministry with consultants who will ensure that the Sangh line of thinking percolates into educational institutions, which have been monopolised by Nehruvian, Left liberal intellectuals for over half a century. Irani’s job would be to defend radical changes in the ministry. Others believe that Modi has faith in her ability and would give the feisty Irani a free hand.
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Waiting in wings
Arun Jaitley is not expected to hold charge of the defence portfolio for long. The two names being floated as potential candidates for the defence minister’s job are Arun Shourie and Jaswant Singh. Both quit the BJP in a huff after making strong comments about fellow party members. Modi, however, has a good relationship with Shourie, who was a minister in the former NDA government and interceded on Modi’s behalf with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee after the 2002 riots. Modi wrote a letter of reconciliation to Jaswant, who contested as an Independent, last week, but the major hitch in the case of Singh is that he is over the cut-off age mark of 75 years set for the Modi Cabinet.
Considering his key role in the 2014 campaign, there is speculation that election whiz-kid Amit Shah might get to be the BJP president. But it is unlikely that there will be a Gujarati as both prime minister and president of the party. Shah himself claims that he has no such ambitions. He is thinking of taking a vacation to tour the country along with his family. Subsequently, he plans to look after forthcoming Assembly polls in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Bengal. He has already acquired dictionaries of Bengali, Tamil and Marathi.
Gujaratis taken aback
The three plane-loads of Gujaratis, including Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, her entire cabinet and senior state party office-bearers who came to Delhi for the swearing-in of Narendra Modi, were taken aback by the poor arrangements compared to the standards of their home state, which specialises in event management. The generals who came in their ceremonial uniforms, diplomats in their suits and women in thick silk saris were all sweating profusely as they had to sit in the muggy heat from 4 pm till 6 pm, when the function started. No shamiana was erected because it would have obstructed the view of Rashtrapati Bhavan. There were no water bottles for the guests. Even the fans threw hot air. Former president Pratibha Patil was unable to get a glass of water. Arun Jaitley’s son Rohan fainted in the heat. Several left the venue after Narendra Modi was sworn in. There was a lack of coordination in announcements for cars and some guests had to wait for an hour for their transport as no mobile phones were permitted. The arrangements were made by Rashtrapati Bhavan, which was foisted with the Herculean task and has never dealt with such large numbers.
Brother at swearing-in
The news that no member of Narendra Modi family was present at his swearing-in ceremony on May 26 is incorrect. True, most of the Prime Minister’s family members stayed home and watched the function on television, including his mother Hiraben and wife Jashodaben. But at least one member of Modi’s family, his brother Sombhai, sat in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, watching the ceremony firsthand with the guests.