Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz and its other officials have trashed the Indo-Pakistan joint statement at Ufa in Russia. In fact, there was never an official joint statement. After the breakfast meeting between Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, Modi suggested that the foreign secretaries of the two countries brief the press. Pakistan’s foreign secretary was reportedly instructed by Sharif not to wrangle too much over the wording. From a Pakistani view point, the briefing suggested a pro-India slant, with Kashmir not even mentioned in the dialogue. The MEA’s attitude towards the talks by the two heads of government is interesting. The initial attempt was to suggest it was a joint statement, though it was never classified as such on the official website. After the storm in Pakistan, some MEA officials were at pains to point out privately that this was not a joint statement at all but merely a joint briefing.
The Gandhi family is still slightly awkward with the newfound allies it has found in its long-time Janata Parivar foes, judging from the body language of JD(U) leaders at the iftar party hosted by Sonia last week. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was seated next to Sonia but he had very little to say except smile blankly. It was left to the Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien, who was on Sonia’s other side, to do most of the talking. On Rahul Gandhi’s table, the JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav and K C Tyagi had little conversation to make. Rahul looked equally uncomfortable except when he was exchanging notes with the National Conference’s Omar Abdullah. Asked by a friend about the “odd company” he was keeping, Sharad Yadav remarked that “for the sake of defeating the BJP, we have to sit with them”.
But while JD(U) representatives at least turned up for the iftar, the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and the RJD’s Lalu Prasad did not even show up. Mulayam’s last-minute excuse was very weak, that he had to go to Lucknow for a consultation with his doctor. But even his deputy, Ram Gopal Yadav, did not attend. Lalu skipped the function to host one of his own in Patna. He is still angry with the Congress for projecting Nitish as the unchallenged leader against the BJP in Bihar. His lieutenant Prem Gupta, who sat on Manmohan Singh’s table at Sonia’s iftar, was heard remarking bitterly, “We are old supporters of the Congress but they don’t believe in reciprocity.”
Several thousand crores worth of property is owned by the Congress in different states. In many instances, portions of state Congress bhavans have been let out on rent and state leaders have made handsome profit from private commercial deals. The rental income is used to meet the expenses of state party offices. In Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Assam, there are allegations against state party leaders of embezzlement. Priyanka Gandhi is informally looking into the complaints. AICC treasurer Motilal Vohra, who is a trustee of most of the properties, is getting on in years and Sonia Gandhi is looking for someone younger to manage the assets. Priyanka, who in the past few years has been made a member of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust, the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Trust and the party trust in Allahabad, is the likely candidate. If Priyanka is to become a trustee of Congress property, she will have to first become a party member.
Salman Khurshid has just completed a book on his years as a minister in Manmohan Singh’s government. His defence of the UPA government will be a counter to recent tell-tale books such as Sanjaya Baru’s The Accidental Prime Minister. Khurshid’s point is that, as a minister, he was so busy that he had little time to find out what was happening in other ministries. His Cabinet colleagues were apparently equally blinkered. The 2G licences or the allocation of coal blocks, which later blew up into major scams, figured only fleetingly in the Cabinet, he claims. Ministers had a preview of “just the tip of the iceberg”. Khurshid also insists that Sonia Gandhi did not interfere in the government. He says that on more than one occasion, when he asked her about a proposal, her response was, “Why are you asking me?”. Khurshid is now in two minds about the title. ‘Slide Down The Mountain’ was his first idea. Now he wonders if he should go for the more positive ‘The Other Side Of The Mountain’.