Home Minister Amit Shah has not been very visible since the end of January. Some surmised that he was out of favour because the Delhi Police failed to control the riots during US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Capital, embarrassing the Modi government. The impression was reinforced when Rajnath Singh, and not Shah, was appointed last month to head the 15-member high-power ministerial committee coordinating with states on ensuring movement of essential supplies during the lockdown. In fact, the Modi-Shah jodi remains in regular touch. The PM did not appoint the Home Minister as chief of the ministerial committee as he needed to take all CMs on board during a pandemic. He knew that Shah’s appointment would rub several CMs the wrong way. Shah succeeded in striking a jarring note nevertheless. The Home Ministry sent teams to monitor lockdown measures in some states, including West Bengal, where Mamata Banerjee took objection.
Rahul Back Soon
Under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis, steps seem afoot to ensure that Rahul Gandhi returns as Congress president. Rahul resigned after the party’s abysmal defeat last year and was reluctant to come back, unless he was given a free hand and the old guard, which regularly stymied his decisions, was out of the way. Acting president Sonia Gandhi recently formed a new committee to deal with the COVID-19 challenge and significantly the usual fixtures, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad,
A K Antony and Mallikarjun Kharge, are missing. Instead, young unknowns working closely with Rahul, such as Rohan Gupta, Gourav Vallabh, Supriya Shrinate and Praveen Chakravarty, have been included as well as long-time Rahul favourites, K C Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala. Incidentally, one of the committee members was the brain behind Sonia’s demand that cost-cutting during the pandemic should include banning government advertisements to the media.
Quick on the Draw
Hardeep Puri is well networked thanks to his IFS background and UN experience. He understood the gravity of the COVID-19 threat very early. In mid-January at a Delhi press conference Puri referred to the coronavirus spread as a “pandemic”, at a time when the WHO was still underplaying it as a “global health emergency”. As Civil Aviation Minister, Puri asked Air India to stop all its flights to and from China, while the US and Europe were still getting a surge of Chinese tourists who came to celebrate the Chinese New Year in January end. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was similarly quick on the draw in putting in place measures to isolate India. Modi did factor in the human suffering because of a lockdown without notice. But his advisers concluded that prior intimation would have led to total panic and caused uncontrollable surges of humanity towards transport hubs, defeating the whole purpose of the exercise.
The freight division may earn the Railways nearly 70 per cent of its revenue, but it is always given second-class treatment, while passenger trains get priority. Goods trains are a frequent butt of jokes because of the uncertainty of their timings and compared unfavourably with trucks. But with passenger trains no longer in the way, good trains now complete journeys in less than half or one-third of the time they took earlier. The freight trains have proved to be the nation’s lifeline during the lockdown, with railway personnel working round-the-clock to ensure that supplies reach every part of the country.
In the Madhya Pradesh Health Department, around 100 people have tested positive for coronavirus, starting with Principal Secretary, Health, Pallavi Jain and including the Director, Health, the Additional Director, Health, head of security in the Health Department, peons and clerks. The initial suspicion was that Jain’s son, a student who had returned from the US in mid-January and was staying with his mother, was the source. But after two tests, he is still COVID-19 negative. Unable to trace the original carrier of the disease, some blame an infected file, others suspect the COVID-19 control room was itself infected by the virus.
Out of Court?
When two legal eagles clash, a high-profile court drama is expected. But the question is in which country. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, one of India’s leading legal counsels, obtained an ex parte stay from a Delhi lower court against the publication of the book Honour Bound by London-based international arbitration lawyer Sarosh Zaiwalla. But Zaiwalla claims that he is not bound by the Delhi court order since he is a British subject and the notice should be served validly as per English law. The offending line concerns Singhvi’s late father, L M Singhvi, once high commissioner in London. Zaiwalla is also contemplating counter-suing.
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