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Delhi Confidential

India has sure left a lasting imprint on the US First Couple’s hearts and minds.

Bharat Darshan for Obama children?
India has sure left a lasting imprint on the US First Couple’s hearts and minds. In the last week of January,when National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon was in Washington on a bilateral visit,President Barack Obama dropped by at one of the meetings. Besides exchanging pleasantries,he is believed to have said that the First Lady very much wished to bring her children on a visit to India soon. While President Obama and Michelle Obama had both come to India on an official visit last year,their two daughters could not come along. With President Obama himself hinting at it,a trip for the children could soon be in the works.

Rahul makes a point with Kirti Azad
In standing committee meetings,parliamentarians are neither supposed to take political sides nor positions because someone from the opposing party could take a contrary view. But that rarely happens. At a meeting of the standing committee on HRD headed by senior Congress member Oscar Fernandes,a tete-a-tete between Congress member Rahul Gandhi and BJP MP Kirti Azad turned into a minor verbal duel. Rahul objected to Azad’s contention that Indian students should not study in countries such as Brazil and Moldova,saying the choice should be left to them. But Azad refused to let the matter go,saying the Congress MP misunderstood him. Azad said his only contention was that India could have the same facilities as Brazil and Moldova and so students need not go to these countries. He also said maybe he was being misunderstood because his English was not that good since it was not his mother tongue. Rahul snapped back,saying his mother tongue too was not English and maybe there had been a genuine misunderstanding. In the end,senior members like Prakash Javdekar had to intervene,saying the debate was a good one and everyone agreed with what Rahul said.

Principal Secretary and a diplomat
The Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister,T K A Nair,has emerged as the follow-up man even on diplomatic issues. For instance,he chairs a monitoring committee of sorts to follow up on commitments to West Asian countries such as Oman and Qatar. Even though he pulls out of PM’s foreign trips each time despite being on the delegation list,he does his own diplomatic assignments. The latest was leading a business delegation to Russia a week ago,dubbed as a follow-up exercise. The bureaucratic assertion aside,what is clear is that Nair has quietly stepped into the diplomatic domain which is otherwise handled by the National Security Advisor in the PMO. 

Pranab’s strong defence connection
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee still rides in the Army staff car that was allotted to him when he was the Defence Minister. But that’s not the only comfort factor. Three former babus who were in the Defence Ministry during his days there have been quietly moved to North Block,showing the comfort levels Mukherjee continues to have with his old team. Shashi Kant Sharma,who was DG (Acquisitions) then,has now been made Banking and Insurance Secretary in Finance Ministry; Bimal Julka who held the key job of Joint Secretary (G) in Defence Ministry has moved as DG (Currency) in the Finance Ministry; and Thomas Mathew,another JS in Defence Ministry during the Mukherjee era, was moved as a JS in the Department Economic Affairs some months back. 

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In Forward Bloc,no forward movement
The loss of clout is unbelievable for the two small Left parties — Revolutionary Socialist Party and All-India Forward Bloc. It wasn’t too long ago when the Congress pampered them too along with the CPM and CPI to stay in power. But look at the dip in their fortunes — Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee didn’t even care to invite them to the all-party meeting convened for ending the Parliament deadlock. Mukherjee perhaps thought that the two parties with two members each in the Lok Sabha and one each in the Rajya Sabha did not merit much attention. While the RSP,even though unhappy,has decided not to make it an issue,AIFB has a different plan. Its leaders are busy drafting a protest letter,though they haven’t decided on the addressee. It may be the President or the Prime Minister or even the Lok Sabha Speaker.

Home comforts in custody
All those arrested in connection with the 2G spectrum scam do not feel far away from home with an uninterrupted supply of home-cooked food made available to them. Former telecom minister A Raja gets his daily supply in custody. Even though he is fond of non-vegetarian food,Raja has switched to vegetarian cuisine due to a stomach infection. Siddhartha Behura and R K Chandolia’s families had also been allowed to send food. But with the two now in judicial custody,they must be missing ghar ka khana. The CBI’s latest catch,billionaire Shahid Usman Balwa,is a fitness freak and strictly follows his daily routine of yoga in the morning. His diet consists of salad and health food.  

Rahul’s Egyptian connection
The Congress must be keenly watching the unfolding situation in Egypt. In 2009,when party general secretary Rahul Gandhi had gone there on the invitation of the Egyptian National Democratic Party (NDP),he is said to have struck a good rapport with Hosni Mubarak’s 47-year-old son Gamal,a non-military professional who also had a stint with the Bank of America. In the emerging scenario,the scion of the Mubarak family does not seem to have a bright future in Egyptian politics. Incidentally,43-year-old Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed,on whose invitation Rahul had gone to Male last year,had urged Hosni Mubarak to step down.


Pawar has the last laugh
After a long time,Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar seems to be enjoying his interaction with journalists and using the occasion to turn the tables on his critics. Pawar chose to personally announce the agricultural production estimates this year mainly to flaunt data on the record production of wheat and pulses even as the country faced double-digit food inflation. Pawar seems to be relishing the divestment of his food portfolio in times of inflation and indicated more than once that it was now the responsibility of others to contain this menace. So when someone asked whether there was enough storage space for this record wheat,Pawar said: “Ask Food Ministry”. When asked about the export of non-basmati variety of rice and sugar among others,the minister said while he was willing to talk on sugarcane,the other queries should be forwarded to the commerce and finance ministries. All these ministries are with the Congress now.

History lessons for Pranab da
Notwithstanding his unparalleled memory about Parliamentary as well as Congress history,Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was in for a surprise during the all-party meeting called by him to break the logjam in Parliament. SP leader Mohan Singh cited three instances from Parliamentary history — 1969,1972 and 1974 — when the government had to bow down before the Opposition demand in order to break the deadlock in Parliament. The clear political message for the ruling party was that in all the three instances,it was arguably the most powerful Congress president and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had to bow down to accommodate the Opposition’s demand. Such was Singh’s elaboration that when he tried to make an early exit after the meeting,Mukherjee prevented him and complimented him for his lessons from history.

Lady Luck not smiling on Deshmukh
While the Rural Development Ministry managed to win the battle against the Sonia Gandhi-led NAC over NREGS wages with the support of the Prime Minister,Vilasrao Deshmukh’s appointment as the new minister does not seem to have been working well. In fact,the Supreme Court last week reprimanded the ministry for pleading to get two important cases,related with NREGS wages in the High Courts of Hyderabad and Bangalore,bunched together and heard in the apex court. The petition was dismissed by a bench comprising Justice AK Ganguly and Justice GS Singhvi. Incidentally,Deshmukh was pulled up by the same bench sometime ago for using his influence as CM to prevent police from registering a case against a money lender. Most recently,Justice Ganguly had lamented Deshmukh’s place in the Union Cabinet given that apex court had pulled him up for misuse of position.


All the ministers’ lucky men
Minister of Food and Consumer Affairs K V Thomas is set to appoint a private secretary and it is most likely to be 1991-batch IIS cadre officer Satish Nambudiripad. Currently serving in the School Education Department of the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry,Nambudiripad had earlier done a stint at Rashtrapati Bhawan. Incidentally,he had recently served as acting PS to HRD Minister Kapil Sibal for two months when his regular PS was away on study leave. The stint turned out rather lucky for Sibal with two portfolios of Telecom and Science and Technology added to his profile in the period. Thomas sure will be hoping for a similar fate.

No Spain trip for Sibal
While Kapil Sibal managed to attend a number of engagements across the world when he had just the HRD portfolio,things changed considerably ever since he got the Telecom Ministry as well. So while Sibal was to visit Spain for a telecom conference for a week,it was called off at the last moment. The reason: the trip would mean the minister would land in the capital only a day ahead of the Budget session. Considering how the spectrum issue is playing out day by day and negotiations are on with the Opposition on the JPC issue,it was not considered appropriate that the Telecom Minister should be away on foreign shores amid such action.

First published on: 14-02-2011 at 03:49 IST
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