The MEA statement announcing cancellation of talks between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers on September 26, within a day of confirming the meeting, is intriguing. The blunt announcement had undiplomatic phrases and even an inaccuracy. (It claimed that Imran Khan had been in office for a ‘few months’, when it had only been a month since he took over.) The wording so mortified former IFS officer Sharat Sabharwal that he tweeted in defence of his service. “IFS does not draft such election oriented statements or take such hasty flip flop decisions,” he said, adding that the thinking behind the statement was “more brawn than brain’’. Since MEA officials and the PMO claim privately that they did not compose the statement, the question is, who did so and why? It appears that the press release was written in a huff and a hurry after National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval reportedly expressed his reservations over the talks, even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi is believed to have okayed the meeting in principle. Doval is understood to have objected because he feared that Pakistan’s hawkish Foreign Minister S M Qureshi, who is known to have humiliated India in public in the past, was unlikely to be constructive.
Will Doval lose beat?
During former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif’s regime and even after he demitted office, Indo-Pakistan negotiations were conducted from the Indian side largely by NSA Doval, who kept in regular touch with his Pakistani counterpart through meetings, often in third countries, and even telephonic conversations. However, Doval could now be out of the picture since Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has not appointed a National Security Adviser and, in fact, has decided to shut down the division.
Weeding out Congress
Just as Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy was trying his best to mollify former CM Siddaramaiah and other Congress dissidents, the lone BSP minister in the government, N Mahesh, has struck a discordant note. Mahesh, while inaugurating a cleanliness drive, urged people to uproot the Congress, describing the party as a weed. Congress minister Puttaranga Shetty, who has an ongoing feud with Mahesh as they are both from the same region, fumed, “Who is Mahesh to talk of removing the Congress?’’
Mahesh tried to explain away his comments, claiming that he was actually referring to the Parthenium weed, which is commonly known as Congress grass and is believed to have come to India in the 1960s through wheat sacks imported from the USA under the PL-480 Food for Peace programme. His smart response appears incredulous. Mahesh, a Dalit who is Karnataka’s reform-minded primary and secondary education minister, is among the most erudite of ministers in Kumaraswamy’s Cabinet.
Bronzed Iron Man
The Iron Man of India will be covered in bronze cladding made in China. The giant statue of Sardar Patel coming up in Gujarat, costing around Rs 2,300 crore, will measure 182 metres from head to foot and 240 metres if one includes the base. The Statue of Unity, as it is called, will be twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. True, it is not entirely a Made in India product, but the iron for the statue and most of the inputs are indigenous. Experts from the US, Singapore and other countries were hired to advise on environmental safety, architectural details and to plan a digital museum for Patel. A high-speed lift will take visitors to the top and offer a panoramic view of the mighty Narmada river, the dam and the surrounding peaks. It is expected to be one of India’s major tourist attractions and state governments have been invited to build guesthouses in the vicinity. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was the first to send a blank cheque for his state’s guest house.
Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is keen for the new school of journalism he has opened in his country to have a tie-up with the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. In fact, the country’s Ambassador to India, Farhad Arziev, is an alumnus of IIMC. The proposal was sent to the Indian government several months ago, but to the embarrassment of the MEA, when President Mirziyoyev arrived in Delhi last week, the MoU with IIMC could not be signed. IIMC Director K G Suresh says the delay is because the new executive council of IIMC has yet to meet to clear the proposal. Considering the term of the last executive ended three months ago, there was surely sufficient time for a new executive to be constituted and for a meeting to be called.