Speaking out of turn in the Congress has become the norm and party discipline appears ready to implode. Among those candidly airing their views or acting against the party’s interests are seasoned hands such as Salman Khurshid, Shashi Tharoor, Jairam Ramesh, Ashok Tanwar, Sanjay Nirupam, Bhupinder Hooda, Milind Deora, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Digvijaya Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Umang Singhar. In most cases, those defying party discipline get away unscathed. The question is what exactly is the role of the Congress Disciplinary Committee. The average age of the committee, chaired by A K Antony is 82. The three-member panel consists of Antony,78, Motilal Vora, 90, and Sushil Kumar Shinde, 78. According to party insiders, the committee sometimes meets, but normally Antony defers any controversial issue for discussion to another session. The last time the Disciplinary Committee took any meaningful action was the revocation of the suspension against Mani Shankar Aiyar over a year ago.
Renewing Old Links
The picturesque ancient port and temple town of Mahabalipuram turned out to be an ideal setting for the informal summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even though it was not the original venue proposed for the meeting. Discussions on the place where the the two heads of government could hold the summit have been on for over six months. The initial suggestion was Varanasi, Modi’s constituency. Varanasi fitted the bill since like Wuhan in China, the venue of last year’s summit between the two leaders, it offered both history and a secluded environment. The Chinese vetoed Varanasi on the ground that the plane carrying Xi and his entourage would be too large for the small Varanasi airport. The fact that Japanese PM Shinzo Abe had already visited Varanasi might have been an additional negative factor. Goa was ruled out because Xi had seen the coastal resort at the BRICS Summit in 2016. Finally the consensus was on Mahabalipuram with its rich archeological heritage and ancient trade links with China and association with Chinese Buddhist monk Hiuen Tsang, even though Tamil Nadu is not a BJP-ruled state.
Swamy vs Dhavan
The Chief Justices’ court is so overcrowded during the Ram Janmabhoomi hearings that some 30 lawyers have per force to stand. Senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, who represents the Sunni Waqf Board, usually has the last word during arguments. (When opposition lawyers pointed out that there was no reference to the Babri Masjid in travellers’ account before Aurangzeb’s time, he retorted that Marco Polo had forgotten to mention the Great Wall while writing about China.) But Dhavan has met his match in Subramanian Swamy. Annoyed at discovering Swamy sitting composedly in the front row of the court, Dhavan demanded the judges make the MP get up since he did not represent any of the original appellants and was not even a lawyer. Dhavan protested indignantly that when he went to Parliament, he was sent to the visitors’ gallery. (Swamy succeeded in getting his writ petition admitted and clubbed with the original cases, unlike other latecomers, since he put a petition before a separate Bench claiming that his argument was based on the different plea of fundamental rights.) Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s advice to Dhavan was that he should stand for Parliament if he wanted to sit in the Rajya Sabha.
Out, but In
The news that Shakti Sinha was stepping down as Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library came from the former IAS officer himself, who tweeted that his term was over. The NMML is presently being handled by a joint secretary in the Culture Ministry. Many speculated on why Sinha had fallen out of favour. In fact, Sinha is likely to return as director since the selection authority, the NMML Executive Council headed by Lokesh Chandra, has forwarded his name. The delay is simply because the Cabinet Committee on Appointments has yet to ratify the choice. A normal bureaucratic delay.
A political observer points out that family-controlled political parties which have not followed the law of primogeniture as laid down in Hindu epics have come to grief. He cites two examples. Recently, there was mayhem in Lalu Prasad’s family. Daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai stormed out of her in-law’s house in tears, claiming she was ill-treated, not allowed to cook in the kitchen and that her smartphone had been snatched from her. Aishwarya blamed her sister-in-law Misa Bharti and mother-in-law Rabri Devi and exonerated her estranged husband Tej Pratap and her brother-in-law Tejashwi. Misa, who is the eldest of Lalu’s children, grew up advising her father on political issues. She was furious when Lalu appointed Tejashwi as his political heir. She reportedly encouraged Tej Pratap the elder brother to revolt.
In the INLD, Om Prakash Chautala picked his younger son Abhay as his political heir, rather than his elder offspring Ajay. The result: Ajay’s two sons Dushyant and Digvijay split the INLD.
(The article appeared in print under the headline ‘Inside track: Discipline Panel? ’)