Last month, on July 25, there were almost no TMC MPs to be seen in Parliament. Even TMC leader in the Rajya Sabha Derek O’ Brien was missing, as were other notables. Mamata Banerjee’s parliamentary brigade had flown to Kolkata to attend the birthday party of five-year old Azaana Banerjee, daughter of Mamata’s nephew, Abhishek Banerjee.
The turnout at the party, which included state ministers, leading bureaucrats and the Who’s Who of Kolkata indicated very clearly that Abhishek is Mamata’s heir apparent. It is not clear whether the traditional trappings at a kid’s party, such as a bouncy castle and a magician, were provided, since most of the guests were adults who simply wanted to mark their presence.
The birthday, incidentally, was celebrated at P C Chandra Garden, a venue so large it is normally used for hosting marriage receptions and major events.
For decades the Press Club of India lobbied to be allotted a plot by the Government of India in central Delhi. Since its inception in 1958, the PCI has been a tenant in a government bungalow. In 2002, during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure the club was finally allotted a prized plot on Rajendra Prasad Road, close to its present accommodation. It took 15 years for the club to raise the entire payment of Rs 5.5 crore in four instalments.
It was a red letter day for the club last month when it received a note from the Delhi Land and Development Office stating that the club’s office-bearers could formally take possession of the land the next day, June 20. But to its shock the club got a message the next morning informing that the allotment was postponed for “unavoidable reasons.’’
Ever since, despite the office- bearers making the rounds of officials and ministers concerned, they have come up against a brick wall. Clear hints have been thrown that the club should be prepared to hand over half the ownership of the plot to the Rajya Sabha TV channel. This arm-twisting in subsidizing the RS channel is surprising considering the BJP government’s original stand when the Rajya Sabha channel was started during former vice-president Hamid Ansari’s term as chairperson of the Rajya Sabha was that it was an unnecessary extravagance and the RS and Lok Sabha channels should be merged. The RS channel’s budget keeps increasing. This year the budget was Rs 90 crore, including a rent of Rs 29 crore. Next year’s estimate is Rs 110 crore!
Snub to Tharoor
Last month Rahul Gandhi met Congress leaders who write articles and blogs for the media. Rajeev Shukla raised the issue of some partymen who gave political opponents an opportunity to defame the party by quoting their writings. The Congress chief agreed and looked straight at Shashi Tharoor, whose comment on the ‘Talibanisation of Hinduism’ had embarrassed the Congress. Ignoring Rahul’s warning, Tharoor insisted on offering an explanation for his controversial statement. Rahul cut him short and made it clear that the party would not stand by any member whose remarks harmed national interest.
At a recent seminar, the host introduced Sitaram Yechury as Mr Yechury, general secretary of the CPI(M). Yechury corrected the organiser, pointing out that his full title was Dr Yechury. The embarrassed announcer explained apologetically that he was under the impression that Yechury had been unable to complete his PhD at JNU because of the Emergency. Yechury retorted that he had a doctorate from an imaginary university in a subject yet to be decided on. The audience burst into laughter when the penny dropped that it was a dig at the yet to be set up Jio Institute funded by the Reliance Foundation to which the UGC has already given ‘Institute of Eminence’ status.
Modi’s media rules
Prime Minister Narendra Modi may not have held a single press conference in over four years in office, but he has been meeting groups of editors informally on occasion. The exercise started with the national media in Delhi back in 2014 and 2015, but since then he has interacted mostly with the regional press. Modi likes to make a distinction between Lutyens’ Delhi journalists and others. He also believes that newspapers are more credible than television and the social media. The PM says he is unwilling to give individual interviews as he has too many requests. However, he assures senior journalists that he is always ready to answer queries sent by email. Modi’s latest get-together was with some 14 editors from Tamil Nadu who were invited to Delhi last week. The rules of engagement were that everything was off the record and politics avoided as a subject of discussion.