Is National Security Advisor Ajit Doval up or down in the Modi-2 regime? On one hand, with Amit Shah as Home Minister, Doval’s wings automatically get clipped in internal security matters. When Rajnath Singh was home minister, Doval held forth freely at North Block meetings. But with Shah as boss there is less scope for interventions. At times, when Doval issues instructions to the IB chief or other agency heads, he is informed that they have to first check with Shah. On the other hand, there is physical evidence that Doval’s clout is expanding in other areas. For instance, earlier he occupied just one floor of Sardar Patel Bhawan as his personal office. Now Doval, raised to the rank of Cabinet minister, has taken over most of the building for the National Security Council (NSC) Secretariat, which has expanded noticeably. There are even three deputy NSAs and the building entrance has got a facelift. Most importantly, the rules of business were re-framed this month so that the NSC can generate Cabinet notes and act like a full government department.
Om, thank goodness
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh sent word to the Indian ambassador in France that he wanted a pandit to be present when he landed in Bordeaux for the formal ceremony of officially handing over the first of the 36 Rafale jets manufactured for the Indian Air Force. The French authorities, alerted that a puja would be performed on the runway, made discrete inquiries as to what the procedure entailed. At the Dassault Aviation Centre, Rajnath, carried out the rituals of a shastra puja, the ceremony for worshipping weapons. He offered a coconut and flowers, while a lemon was placed under the aircraft wheel. Singh put kum kum on his finger to inscribe the auspicious figure ‘Om’ on the jet. The French witnessing the ceremony, including the Minister for Armed Forces, top army brass and senior officials of Dassault, heaved a sigh of relief. They had been informed that traditionally Indians inscribe a swastika during a puja. The swastika is an unhappy symbol for France since it evokes memories of Nazi occupation of the country during World War II.
Advice not Wanted
Veteran journalist Ashok Malik’s field of expertise is the media. His last job in fact was as press secretary to the President. But in his new position as “policy advisor’’ in the Ministry of External Affairs he has reportedly been told not to offer advice on the media. The External Publicity Division is possessive about its turf, even if its efforts for positive coverage on Kashmir in the foreign press have fallen rather short.
The recent BCCI elections demonstrated that this is yet another sphere in which Amit Shah holds sway. However, it was not Shah alone who rooted for Sourav Ganguly over Brijesh Patel for the president’s post. Along with MoS Finance Anurag Thakur, Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who controls the seven votes from the Northeast states, and Congressman Rajiv Shukla who is influential with the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Hyderabad cricket boards, also backed Ganguly. While the common surmise is that Shah coveted a winning face for his party in the Bengal Assembly polls, the BJP president realises that Bengal’s cautious dada has a history of keeping on the right side of all political parties, whether the TMC, CPI(M) or Congress, and is unlikely to throw his lot solely with the BJP. The common target of the new BCCI members from different camps is Vinod Rai, till last week head of the BCCI’s Committee of Administrators (CoA). The cricket bosses who lost control of the most lucrative sport in the country for over three years had announced to all and sundry that they would settle scores by investigating some of the financial transactions of the CoA. Forewarned, the Supreme Court, while permitting the elected office-bearers to take charge, scuttled attempts for a potential witch-hunt against predecessors by inserting two safeguard clauses. No proceedings against the CoA members is possible without court clearance and legal expenses will be borne by the BCCI.
Waiting for Cook
The Garvi Gujarat building, the new Gujarat Bhavan in Delhi inaugurated by PM Modi on September 2, has won plaudits and publicity. But the Bhavan, located on the prestigious Akbar Road, still awaits a resident cook. It is not easy to persuade a skilled Gujarati cook to move to Delhi, since cooks find the cost of living much cheaper in their home state and they prefer the familiar surroundings. The Gujarat authorities put out tenders for an agency to run the kitchen. The tender has finally been awarded, now everyone is waiting for the cook.
This article first appeared in the print edition on October 27, 2019 under the title ‘Inside track: Some up, some down’.
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