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Friday, February 21, 2020

Inside Track: No curtain call

Modi’s grim face indicated that he was unhappy with the glitch in an otherwise well-choreographed event.

Written by Coomi Kapoor | Updated: February 25, 2018 1:50:14 am
sonia gandhi, indira gandhi, indian politics, bjp government, bjp headquarters, indian express columns, coomi kapoor articles, coomi kapoor Modi’s grim face indicated that he was unhappy with the glitch in an otherwise well-choreographed event. (Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal/File)

When the BJP’s plush new headquarters on Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last Sunday, it was meant to be the party’s moment of triumph. The hi-tech complex has come up in just a year and a half. But there was a wee snag when Modi tried to part the curtain signifying the formal inauguration. The left side of the curtain refused to budge despite much tugging of the cords and eventually Rajnath Singh pushed the curtain manually. Modi’s grim face indicated that he was unhappy with the glitch in an otherwise well-choreographed event.

The curtain malfunction was perhaps because L K Advani pulled it in the opposite direction. Old-timers recall that when Rajiv Gandhi as PM inaugurated the smart, modern Congress office ‘Jawahar Bhavan’, on Rajendra Prasad Road in 1989, his speech was cut short due to power failure. The superstitious viewed this as an ill omen. Particularly as Rajiv was not voted back to power and the building eventually ended up as the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation.

Electing to elect?

Jaws dropped at the CWC steering committee meeting when former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi commented casually that she was surprised to see the same old faces. Her gentle hint that the days of some in the old guard were numbered was not lost on the gathering. Rahul Gandhi tried to reassure the members, remarking that there would be a mix of the old and new in the new CWC. There is also speculation on whether, at the party’s plenary session in March, the new CWC members will be elected or nominated by the president. As per the party constitution, 12 of the members are to be elected.

However, during Sonia’s 19-year regime, there were no polls. Can Rahul, who has stressed the need for inner-party democracy, afford to do likewise? It is presumed that many familiar faces, such as Janardan Dwivedi, Motilal Vora, Mukul Wasnik, B K Hariprasad, Karan Singh and Mohan Prakash, will bow out.

A straight face

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is criticised for seldom smiling. Recently, many in the Rajya Sabha, including some Congress MPs, tittered when Prime Minister Modi compared Renuka Chowdhury’s loud guffaws to the sound of rumbling laughter from a character in the Ramayan serial. Sitharaman stood out by remaining straightfaced. Several feminists, including Congress MP Kumari Selja, congratulated Sitharaman for showing solidarity with her gender. However, Sitharaman refused to indicate whether she had kept a poker face out of solidarity or habit.

Halal not jhatka

Indira Gandhi was upfront and wound up the Press Council of India (PCI) on the very day she declared Emergency. The UPA and NDA governments have preferred a gradual approach in rendering toothless the council, instituted in 1966 to preserve press freedom and safeguard professional standards. Both governments appointed as PCI heads former judges who are clearly unsuitable. UPA appointee Justice Markandey Katju made no bones of his contempt for the media in his first public interaction. The NDA-appointee, Justice C K Prasad, has gone one better. When the council was to be reconstituted this year, he rejected two-thirds of the media nominees, including some eminent names and former PCI members.

In Prasad’s opinion, the names he turned down did not fulfill the criteria mentioned in the rules. (In fact, PCI rules as amended in 1999 clearly state that a nominee from a journalist body will be presumed to be eligible if verified by an officebearer of the association concerned.) Prasad has also demanded that the media organisations send him more than one name so that he can pick whom he deems suitable. Whatever happened to the claim that the PCI is an autonomous body?

Model guests

Prime Minister Modi was outshone on his own turf. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau arrived for his ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan accompanied by his photogenic family. It’s the first time, as far as anyone can recall, that a government head turned up for the formal guard of honour accompanied by tiny tots. Modi extended his famous bear hug to Trudeau and the brood, but the seasoned political family stole the limelight, with the kids assuming they were at a picnic. Little Hadrien insisted on sprawling on the red carpet and his father tried to coax him to get up. Throughout the week-long visit, photographs of the Trudeaus figured prominently in the media. They wore colour-coordinated designer Indian outfits to suit every occasion. The only fashion faux pas was the kids donning what looked like striped night shirts to the Jama Masjid.

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