Some see parallels between the government-owned Life Insurance Corporation’s (LIC) exposure to the Adani Group and one of independent India’s first major financial scandals. Back in 1958, Feroze Gandhi, Prime Minister Nehru’s son-in-law, was able to prove in Parliament that LIC had, at the behest of high-ups in the government, invested hugely in six ailing companies owned by Haridas Mundhra, a dodgy businessman. Then Finance Minister T T Krishnamachari had to resign as a consequence of Feroze’s campaign. Rahul Gandhi, who has raised the Adani issue in Parliament, is Feroze’s grandson.
President Droupadi Murmu is very popular with the Rashtrapati Bhavan staff since she takes a personal interest in the employees and is far more accessible than most of her predecessors. On Diwali, each employee received a big box of sweets. Murmu donated Rs 2 lakh out of her personal funds to make this possible.
A simple soul and a Brahma Kumari follower, Murmu wakes up at 3 am to meditate, followed by a 45-minute walk. She has instructed that only vegetarian fare without onion and garlic be served at the Bhavan kitchen, which closes at 9 pm, whereas meals were earlier served round the clock. Rashtrapati Bhavan’s catering bill has plummeted by many lakhs as a consequence.
This January, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was the first foreign dignitary to be received by Murmu at the Bhavan’s forecourt. Anxious not to make a faux pas, Murmu held a rehearsal a day before. At the actual ceremony, however, there was one slip-up. The self-effacing Murmu stood behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the forecourt while making the introductions to the chief guest. Protocol called for her to stand ahead of the PM.
For the Long Haul
Varun Gandhi has just released a new book, The Indian Metropolis, a thoughtful analysis of the need for a well-conceived and sustainable urban landscape. His earlier treatise, A Rural Manifesto, is a bestseller taught in several universities,. His first two published works were a collection of his poems, indicating a multifaceted personality. Varun’s academic bent is combined with sharp political instincts.
The late Arun Jaitley was impressed that Varun, while still in his twenties, could reel off caste break-up figures in constituencies and recall the victory margin in elections with amazing accuracy. Though he began his political career with a bang — as one of the youngest MPs elected to Parliament in 2009, the youngest BJP general secretary and youngest member of the national executive — he seems to have rubbed some in the party high command the wrong way since then. Whether in support of the farmers’ demands or campaigning for greater employment opportunities for youth, Varun believes in speaking his mind.
Recently, Rahul ruled out twice the possibility of his cousin being admitted to the Congress, though Varun has never expressed any interest in joining the party. Perhaps Rahul went out of the way to make the point out of apprehension that a third heir to the charismatic Nehru-Gandhi legacy in the Congress would crowd the field. Unfazed, Varun continues to plough his lonely furrow. He is a long-distance player.
When I landed in Goa last winter, taxi drivers at the airport parking lot accosted me with an anxious query, “Madame, how many foreigners are on the flight?” My response, that not a single videshi though the plane was full, led to glum faces and gloomy predictions that corona had ruined a second straight tourist season.
On the way home to Siolim, I argued with my neighbourhood taxi driver that foreign tourists did not in fact generate as much revenue as Indians, particularly the much-maligned visitors from the North. (One rambunctious Delhi visitor reinforced the prejudice against northerners by driving his hired taxi). On deliberation, the taxi driver acknowledged the logic of my argument, conceding that Europeans can sit in a bar and nurse one drink for an hour, while Indians order several rounds in that time.
My hypothesis has now been validated by those in Goa’s hospitality sector, who acknowledge that December 2021 was a bumper season for tourists because of Indians who flocked to celebrate Christmas and New Year, never mind if many were carriers of the Omicron virus. Traffic jams on New Year’s Eve in Goa were unprecedented, rented villas and Airbnb residences were renting out spaces per day as if Manhattan real estate. This year, many more foreign tourists have arrived, including upmarket Russian travellers, who find a welcoming environment, unlike much of the world. (In some places, even the menus are in Russian). Though the season may be good overall, it will not reach anywhere near last year’s peak. With steep domestic air fares, many big Indian spenders opted for Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam instead.