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Monday, July 06, 2020

Inside Track: Riding high, but rider

Rajnath Singh may be politically far more relevant today than before, but the danger of being pushed upwards is that he can also be a convenient scapegoat.

Written by Coomi Kapoor | Updated: June 21, 2020 9:55:04 am
Rajnath Singh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey/File )

In Modi 1.0, Rajnath Singh was fairly invisible though he held the key Home Affairs portfolio and was the senior-most Cabinet minister. Arun Jaitley was usually in the spotlight on government issues and Amit Shah on the political front. At the start of Modi 2.0, Amit Shah as Home Minister projected a larger than life image. But in February this year, Shah seemed to have gone on a temporary hiatus and Singh did most of the talking on behalf of the government, whether on the lockdown, the migrant problem, the India-China confrontation or India-Nepal relations. Political observers were surprised that Singh was even included in the Group of Ministers on the Covid-19 crisis. By virtue of his seniority, Singh automatically chaired the key committee, though epidemic management falls under the Home Ministry. Singh may be politically far more relevant today than before, but the danger of being pushed upwards is that he can also be a convenient scapegoat.

Pawarful Rumblings

THE outsourcing of the administration of Maharashtra to bureaucrats by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has infuriated his alliance partners and some in his party. The CM is seldom to be seen at his office or official residence, and is not available on the phone after 11 pm. He clears files only after the Chief Secretary’s approval. Frustrated Congress state leaders may make the most noise but the man to watch is Sharad Pawar. The NCP leader has objected more than once to the CM’s overcautious bureaucratic approach. For instance, the CM wanted to delay the resumption of domestic flights to Mumbai, hence the contradictory messages emanating from Mumbai to airlines for the first two days after flights started. While Pawar believes the only way to revive the economy is to lift the lockdown, Thackeray favours the bureaucracy’s pleas for a more gradual return to normalcy. Thackeray’s lack of political leadership is seen in his inability to engage with Mumbai’s industry, which should have played a major role in organising relief and healthcare. After the Nisarga cyclone, Thackeray went on a single aerial survey of Raigad district, while the 79-year old Pawar, a cancer survivor, made a gruelling road trip of the devastated region.

Crying Wolf

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s operation ‘Wolf Wolf’, where he carted Congress MLAs to the J W Marriott resort, Jaipur, for over a week was not because he feared a threat from the BJP in engineering defections and sabotaging the election of the Congress’s two Rajya Sabha candidates. Unlike Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress is vulnerable, the numbers in Rajasthan are stacked squarely in favour of the Congress. There are 126 MLAs, 107 from the Congress alone, supporting the government. The Congress needed just 101 votes for both its Rajya Sabha candidates to romp home. Gehlot laid out an elaborate game plan — summoning all party MLAs to the Shiv Vilas hotel on the pretext that he was holding a meeting; keeping the MLAs there overnight; and the next day sending them home to pack their clothes as he was sending them on a week’s sojourn. If Gehlot was truly suspicious of his MLAs he was hardly likely to have given them advance notice! The drama was orchestrated by Gehlot simply to paint himself as the Congress saviour with the Delhi high command and undercut his rival, Deputy CM Sachin Pilot, by insinuating disloyalty.

What’s in a Name

IAS officer V K Pandian has been Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s right-hand man since 2011 when he was his private secretary. Pandian, in fact, is so powerful that he is often described as the de-facto ruler of the state. But the middle-rank IAS officer could not have remained a lowly PS forever. He was promoted to the post of secretary last year and given the fanciful designation of ‘Secretary of 5 Ts’. The Ts stand for Transparency, Team Work, Technology, Timeliness and Transformation. A workaholic, Pandian starts his day at 4 am and keeps an eye on the functioning of all ministries on the ground as this falls within the ambit of his work description. He sits in at all major government meetings and does most of the talking.

Age No Bar

Members of Delhi’s prestigious India International Centre were delighted to learn that the centre was re-opening after the lockdown. The elderly members who consider themselves the Capital’s intellectual elite often spend the entire day browsing the library or holding addas over tea, coffee and snacks. But the re-opening came with a rider. Those over 65 were advised to stay home. The mean age of the members is around 60. Take, for example, the IIC life-time trustees. Soli Sorabjee is 90, N N Vohra, 84, Kapila Vatsyayan, 91, B N Srikrishna, 79, and Shyam Saran is 73. It was subsequently made clear that the age restriction was merely an advisory.

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