The A K Antony committee probing reasons for the disastrous showing of the Congress in the 2014 polls is ready with its report. The committee interviewed 15 people from each state to figure out the reasons for the defeat. This included PCC chiefs, heads of state legislative party units and candidates who had lost by the largest and smallest margins. Antony is a known vacillator, but Mukul Wasnik was in the committee to speed up things. However, Congress insiders are grumbling that the committee report is irrelevant since the four men it holds responsible for the debacle — Madhusudan Mistry, C P Joshi, Mohan Prakash and Jairam Ramesh — are Rahul Gandhi favourites and have already been let off the hook.
The presence of Tanmay Mehta, one of Narendra Modi’s OSDs, in Parliament’s Central Hall for three days in a row has created a minor flutter. Parliamentary journalists, who use the hall as a convenient meeting place to interact with politicians and pick up political insights, fear that the presence of a member of Modi’s secretariat will make BJP leaders wary of being seen talking with them. When asked why he was sitting in Central Hall, since government officials almost never visit the chamber meant for MPs and the media, Mehta claimed he was familiarising himself with the way things work in Parliament.
Summer is usually when Central ministers and senior secretaries to the Government of India find a pretext to get away from the Delhi heat. But this year, officialdom is taking very few foreign trips, thanks to the Prime Minister cracking the whip. All foreign trips by Cabinet ministers have to be cleared by the PM. Visits abroad by ministers of state have to be okayed by MoS in the PMO Jitendra Singh, who presumably seeks Modi’s approval. Proposed trips by secretaries are to be cleared by a Cabinet steering committee. While seeking permission to go abroad, the applicant has to fill out a form on purpose of the visit, duration etc. Other questions to be answered are why the job cannot be entrusted to the local ambassador and what will be the cost of the trip to the exchequer. On return, the official has to explain to a coordination committee how the outcome of the trip justified the expense. According to grapevine, eight Cabinet ministers have cancelled their proposed visits abroad, including one where the minister was willing to pay his fare as he wanted to attend his child’s graduation ceremony.
The Congress is in a tizzy because of a mischievous tweet by Subramanian Swamy captioned ‘National Herald Part II’. He was referring to some 30 acres owned by the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee in Teynampet in Chennai. The land was gifted to the party by former Tamil Nadu chief minister K Kamaraj back in the Fifties. A portion was leased out to 60 shops but a major chunk of the land still remains with the TNCC. Two years ago, Congress leaders from Delhi, including vice-president Rahul Gandhi, visited Chennai. The party high command was so impressed by the prime property that it proposed a partnership with a Mumbai builder for construction of a mall which could fetch a huge rent. The project, however, has not progressed much since it is bogged down in legal disputes, with shopkeepers refusing to vacate the premises.
The BJP power elite was out in full force for the engagement of party president Amit Shah’s son Jay with Rishita Patel in Ahmedabad. The festivities seemed more like a wedding bash than just an engagement ceremony. Except for Narendra Modi, who was away in Brazil, almost his entire Cabinet was present. A notable absentee was External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Shah had invited Congress MPs and MLAs from Gujarat too, but they all stayed away, reportedly on the instructions of the party.
Despite the clear majority enjoyed by the BJP-led alliance, the din in Parliament raised by the Opposition continues to mar proceedings. Question Hour is often a casualty. Rajya Sabha chairperson Hamid Ansari is contemplating changing the timing of Question Hour from 11 am to noon so that MPs have an hour at the start of the day to ventilate their grievances. Earlier, Ansari had fixed Question Hour at 2 pm, but this experiment did not work since many MPs leave the House after lunch. Incidentally, the Rajya Sabha is not planning to emulate the Lok Sabha and install large TV screens. It was felt that it would only encourage more unruly behaviour.