Rajnath Singh was belatedly included in additional Cabinet committees after the normally pliable minister made known his unhappiness. Though Singh may be officially No. 2 in Cabinet hierarchy, few dispute that Amit Shah ranks next only to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in real terms. That Shah will depute for the PM in his absence was evident even before the Cabinet committees were constituted. Shah summoned a meeting of the ministers of Finance, External Affairs, Railways, Commerce and Petroleum at his office to discuss petroleum import and aid to Mozambique, subjects which have nothing to do with his ministry. While none of Modi’s ministers dared object to the order of precedence at the swearing-in, some officials in the foreign office are getting hot under the collar that their minister, S Jaishankar, is tenth in ranking, although traditionally the ministry never occupies lower than third or fourth place. The Foreign Minister also has to share his territory with NSA Ajit Doval, like in Modi’s first tenure. Jaishankar, then foreign secretary, and Doval had reached an understanding of division of work. Doval handled Pakistan, immediate neighbours, and the Middle East, while Jaishankar focused on the big powers, the US, China Russia, Japan and Europe. Doval was reportedly taken aback at the return of Jaishankar, that too with the rank of Cabinet minister. But soon, the PM had elevated Doval to the same rank.
Nitish Kumar was the only NDA ally to publicly express unhappiness with the BJP’s big brother role in allotment of ministerial slots, but others too nurse a grievance. Ram Vilas Paswan had presumed that his MP son, Chirag Paswan, would be included and the party’s executive even passed a resolution to this effect. Parkash Singh Badal wanted his son Sukhbir Badal to be made a minister, but the BJP opted for Sukhbir’s wife Harsimrat Kaur. The BJP persuaded Sukhbir that it was in his interest to continue in state politics.
Congress leaders are puzzled over Rahul Gandhi’s deference to NCP chief Sharad Pawar, of whom Sonia Gandhi had been deeply suspicious. After the Lok Sabha polls defeat, the Congress president was unavailable to party members, but he called on Pawar and they met for two hours. During the ticket distribution too, Rahul had ignored phone calls from frantic Maharashtra leaders, including state chief Ashok Chavan, that powerful Shiv Sena defector Suresh Dhanorkar be given a party ticket. It was only after Pawar telephoned him that Rahul agreed. Ironically, the Sena defector was the only Congressperson to win from Maharashtra.
Message in meet
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s surprise call on PM Narendra Modi accompanied by his son Nakul was meant to send a signal to his party the Congress. The veteran Congressperson is unhappy that Rahul Gandhi made a scathing reference to CMs canvassing for tickets for sons. In fact Nakul was the only Congressperson to win in MP. Nath, whose government is vulnerable post polls, abstained from the CWC meeting that followed the results.
Bengal and stars
That Mamata Banerjee is star-struck is reflected in her choice of Trinamool candidates. Newly elected Mimi Chakraborty, 30, and Nusrat Jahan, 29 — part of the Trinamool Tollywood contingent to the Lok Sabha — created a buzz in the Capital. The others are senior stars Shatabdi Roy and Dev (Deepak Adhikari), who seldom attends Parliament. Banerjee had even nominated Mithun Chakraborty to the Rajya Sabha. Incidentally, the BJP’s Bengal contingent is unhappy that out of its 16 MPs from the state, only two, Babul Supriyo and Debasree Chaudhuri, were appointed ministers of state. The Bengal unit feels that a berth should have been given to actress Locket Chatterjee, who joined the BJP as early as 2015.
No poll needed
Sonia Gandhi was renamed chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) on June 1, with party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala claiming that the election of the party’s Lok Sabha leader would be held later. In fact, in 1998, Pranab Mukherjee had tweaked the CPP rules giving its chairperson the powers to appoint both the leaders of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha of the party. The delay is because it is unclear whether Rahul wants the job. If Rahul does not become the leader, which is an onerous and time-consuming responsibility, the competition would be between Shashi Tharoor, who made it known that he is willing, and Manish Tewari, who is the preferred choice of party seniors.