Narendra Modi’s wife Jashodaben is in a piquant position. She has half a dozen SPG bodyguards assigned to protect her and they have been provided with a vehicle so that they can follow the PM’s wife wherever she goes. But Jashodaben herself has no transport of her own nor does her brother, with whom she stays, have the funds to put a car at her disposal. Rules do not permit Jashodaben to travel in the SPG car even though she enjoys going on pilgrimages. A senior Gujarat BJP worker helps make arrangements when she has to travel out of town.
There were some smirks when news leaked that Omar Abdullah was in London when he should have been home campaigning for the J&K elections. But the J&K Chief Minister was not in the UK on a holiday as implied. His father Farooq is to have a kidney transplant and was undergoing dialysis before the operation. The donor is likely to be Farooq’s wife Molly.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee opted to attend the two-day Congress-organised seminar to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru at Vigyan Bhavan, Delhi, because she wanted to cock a snook at the BJP. But she was taken aback when she reached the venue and discovered that other opposition leaders like Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Nitish Kumar had not shown up personally but sent their party representatives. Only arch enemies Sitaram Yechury of the CPM and D Raja of the CPI were there. Mamata assumed she would at least automatically be invited to speak at the conference. Instead she was informed that if she wanted to address the gathering, she had to fill out a requisition form. Feeling humiliated, Mamata left in a huff before lunch. Passing by Prithviraj Road, she sent word to L K Advani that she would like to meet him. The elder statesman was only too happy to invite her over. Later she also called on Arun Jaitley.
The relationship between Narendra Modi as Gujarat CM and former Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed used to be strained. Hameed would insist that the Gujarat model lagged behind in social indices, while Modi cited statistics to refute her claims. It did not help that Modi constantly pronounced her name backwards, calling her Hameed Syeda. The Planning Commission member thought that this was done deliberately to rile her. But she had herself once made a blunder while speaking to renowned agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan. She referred to him inadvertently as Subramanian Swamy.
Congress loyalists have criticised the fact that Gandhi family members were not included in the government-controlled Nehru Memorial committee to mark the 125th birth anniversary of Pandit Nehru. But Narendra Modi has been more inclusive than Manmohan Singh’s government in his appointments to the committee. In the UPA regime, the only non-Congress representative was then Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj. In the newly constituted committee, there are half a dozen members from the Opposition, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Karan Singh, Maulana Madani and Gandhi family friend Suman Dubey. Besides, there are several intellectuals and retired officials with non-BJP backgrounds. Incidentally, at the fag end of the UPA government, an additional Rs 20 crore was allotted to the anniversary committee budget. The Manmohan Singh government in its last days also cleared a grant of Rs 150 crore for the corpus of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
Unlike most faceless diplomats, Germany’s Ambassador to India Michael Steiner stands out from the crowd in the diplomatic corps. His impending birthday celebrations have become a talking point because his wife plans to hold a satsang attended by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Steiner does not believe in keeping a low profile and is not shy of speaking out. He held three press briefings after the HRD Ministry decided to disallow German as an alternative to Sanskrit in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools and did not hide his annoyance. Last year, he had evoked both criticism and praise for inviting Zubin Mehta to conduct a Western classical concert in Kashmir. In January last year, Steiner had taken the initiative to invite then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi to his residence and asked all the EU ambassadors to join him. In the bargain, Steiner had ended the decade-long boycott on Modi imposed by the EU after the 2002 Gujarat riots.