The PM-CM tiff
Relations between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje are far from cordial. Raje has not forgiven Modi for ignoring the ministerial claims of her son Dushyant Singh, a three-time MP. At a meeting with state MPs at Bikaner House in Delhi, she made her unhappiness at Rajasthan not getting a Cabinet-rank representation in the Modi government very evident. News of the meeting reached Modi, who suspects that the case against his MoS Nihal Chand Meghwal, which was closed by the police in 2011 when the Ashok Gehlot government was in power, was re-opened at the prodding of the present regime in Rajasthan.
Runk aur rajas
Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge jokes that he is a “runk (humble man)” sandwiched between two “rajas”. The Dalit leader from Karnataka has Amarinder Singh, the erstwhile maharaja of Patiala, as his deputy and Jyotiraditya Scindia, who belongs to the erstwhile Gwalior royal family, as his chief whip.
Apply, no reply
The media in Delhi is getting to realise that Prime Minister’s 70-year old PRO from Gandhinagar, Jagdish Thakkar, doesn’t respond to calls from journalists. A group of enterprising journalists managed to track Thakkar down in Parliament House and take his telephone number. But they still get no response whenever they call him. The PRO did respond to one journalist who sent a particularly nasty complaint on SMS. He explained that he sent out press statements but didn’t interact with the media.
Urban Development and Housing Minister Venkaiah Naidu has a task on his hand allotting government bungalows to new MPs and ministers. Getting the previous lot to vacate is no easy task either. There are several claimants to some of the more well-appointed bungalows, renovated at great expense either by public sector undertakings or by the well-heeled allottees from their own pocket. Particularly sought-after are the houses in which prosperous Congress MPs from Andhra Pradesh resided. The millionaire MPs had hired interior decorators to transform the Lutyens bungalows into five-star quarters, complete with false ceilings for air conditioning and fancy tiles. One of the most coveted bungalows expected to be vacated shortly is Amar Singh’s house in Lodhi Estate, which supposedly boasts of a swimming pool and a bar.
Perhaps because of the Budget, Arun Jaitley has been spending far more time in the Finance Ministry in North Block than he does in South Block, which houses the Defence Ministry. He works often from 9 am to 9 pm but visits the Defence Ministry only from noon to 3 pm. Jaitley prefers to eat his lunch in South Block. The advantage is that a room adjacent to the Defence Minister’s office is fitted out like a mini-suite, including a small dining table to entertain visitors for lunch.
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MPs from Kerala had hailed External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for the Indian government’s rescue of Kerala nurses from Iraq. Nevertheless, Swaraj continues to be low-key and seldom speaks to the media. In Bhutan, when she was asked to comment on the talks between the two governments, she observed that she could only reflect the views of the Prime Minister and had nothing further to add. She declined to comment when asked on the report that the US National Security Agency had kept the BJP under surveillance. Her cryptic response was: “Ask the BJP, not the government.” This was surprising considering that the MEA spokesperson later that day reacted strongly to the news and India summoned the US ambassador to lodge a formal protest.
Cong next target?
The Finance Ministry is closely watching Subramanian Swamy’s case against the Gandhi family and friends concerning the takeover of the assets of Associated Journals Limited, publishers of The National Herald, by Young India after paying the Congress just a fraction of the amount which was owed to the party by the defunct newspaper group. The Income Tax Department has served notices to Young India and Associated Journals Ltd. Sonia Gandhi fears IT’s next target could be the Congress. The party would be in danger of losing its income tax exemption if it is proved that it was conducting non-political activities.