An embrassed Ministry of External Affairs is trying to keep a tight lid over a faux pas during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s recent visit to India. The Sarabjeet Singh painting hanging at the Prime Minister’s Race Course Road office, which formed the backdrop for the handshake between Narendra Modi and Wang, was of the disputed Aksai Chin mountain range. Paintings by well-known artists are hung at Race Course Road by rotation and this particularly inappropriate painting — India and China both claim the territory — was probably selected by accident. Fortunately, the significance of the painting seems to have been lost on the Chinese, who are already annoyed over the presence of Tibetan PM-in-exile Lobsang Sangay at Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. It seems a controversial RSS leader with Nepal connections slipped Sangay’s name into the list of invitees. The RSS is unhappy with Modi’s efforts to forge closer ties with China.
When he first took over as prime minister in 2004, Manmohan Singh met secretaries to the Government of India just as Narendra Modi interacted with senior government secretaries recently. Singh also urged officials to approach him directly if they had a problem. The then Tourism secretary took him up on his suggestion and met the PM to complain about her minister who was arm-twisting suppliers of liquor to ITDC duty-free shops at the airport for extraneous reasons. Singh heard out the secretary sympathetically, but did not protect her and she was soon transferred out of the ministry.
The 77 top bureaucrats who met Modi believe that the new PM means business. Unlike Singh’s interaction with them, the two-and-a-half-hour meeting on June 5 was interactive, with the secretaries giving suggestions. Modi, without the help of notes, responded to their requests and remembered their names. The PM assured them that ministers would not have the right to select their own staff but would have to follow due procedure.
Kursi Kissa I
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s request for a special chair during her recent visit to Delhi was not a new phenomenon. The need for a specially designed chair for Jayalalithaa first came to notice in 2004 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister and the AIADMK chief had come to meet him. The Tamil Nadu czarina found it difficult to get out of her chair as she tried to stand up to greet senior BJP party leaders. To avoid a repeat of the embarrassment, the Prime Minister’s Office speedily ordered two wider chairs for the exclusive use of Jayalalithaa. The chairs are reportedly still at Vajpayee’s residence. There are probably other similar chairs in Central government storage, but the new regime appears unaware of their existence. Hence the need for Jayalalithaa to transport her own chairs to Delhi.
Opting for comfort
Arun Jaitley has turned down the bullet-proof Ambassador car he is entitled to as defence minister. Jaitley found the car too small and prefers his own, more roomy private vehicle. Incidentally, Jaitley, who in all his years as MP had opted to stay at his private residence in Kailash Colony and loan his official government bungalow, 9 Ashoka Road, to his party, may finally be moving into a government bungalow. This is for security reasons and because there is not enough parking space outside his private residence. Friends of Jaitley, including journalists, cricketers and lawyers, were recipients of his generosity and were permitted to use the lawns of 9, Ashoka Road, for wedding receptions.
Visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was overshadowed in some official photographs because he was dressed in a simple black suit while Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj stood out in her white sari with a red blouse and red jacket. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was even more striking in a green sari and a red blouse. Customarily in international diplomacy, women envoys, be it Hillary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice, wear formal business suits in single shades. On the day she took office, Swaraj was resplendent in a parrot green sari with a red jacket, while Singh was equally striking in a red sari with a yellow blouse. Ruchira Kamboj, who was summoned from Paris to be chief protocol officer to receive high-level guests from SAARC countries for the PM’s swearing-in, was the subject of much comment on Twitter because of her unusual long-sleeve sari blouse with an animal pattern. Incidentally, Kamboj slighted the Bangladesh Speaker by refusing to welcome her personally at the airport. She opted to receive only heads of government.