The Modi government is anxious to keep on the right side of President Pranab Mukherjee. But sometimes, even with the best of intentions, things can go awry. The President was reportedly displeased that the government did not take him into confidence before sending an invitation to US President Barack Obama for the Republic Day parade. Instead, Mukherjee got to hear the news from a tweet by Narendra Modi. The fact that Mukherjee criticised the government for taking the ordinance route and Modi on the stump said that ordinances are sometimes necessary for good governance, suggests a bit of tension between South Block and Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Congress also tries to maintain good ties with Mukherjee, not long ago a senior leader of the party. Sonia Gandhi was seated next to US First Lady Michelle Obama at the presidential banquet. Even the JD(U) is anxious to be in the President’s good books. Recently, JD(U) president Sharad Yadav met Mukherjee for 45 minutes and invited him to Bihar for an event in April.
The guessing game in the Congress is whether Rahul Gandhi will be appointed party president in March or September. If the Gandhi scion takes charge in March, it will be on an ad hoc basis till September when the organisational elections are due and Sonia Gandhi’s five-year term as president ends officially. During the March AICC session, some amendments to the party constitution are being contemplated. A particularly significant amendment proposed is to decrease the tenure of the party president from five to three years. This would mean that even if Rahul is appointed party chief, he will not be so in 2019 when the next parliamentary election is due. Rahul would then have to secure a second term. This appears to be a ploy of the anti-Rahul lobby which hopes that the Gandhi scion will not last the course. Another proposed amendment aims to restrict voting rights in a presidential election to ‘active members’ — those who have recruited at least 25 ordinary members to the party.
Envoy to the US
There is speculation as to who will be the next ambassador to the US in place of S Jaishankar, who has taken over as Foreign Secretary. The MEA is batting for a career diplomat. Arun Kumar Singh, Ambassador to France and earlier deputy chief of the mission in Washington, is said to be the front-runner for the post. But the Prime Minister is contemplating a political appointment of a non-diplomat of some stature who can interact with him and the US president on a personal level. The US government is seen to have upgraded the post of ambassador to India by appointing Richard Verma, an American of Indian origin with considerable clout in Washington. India wants to do likewise. The name of a leading Gujarati banker-businessman has been short-listed. He is on the board of several government and private bodies and heads a top finance company.
So desperate was the BJP to woo every last vote in the Delhi Assembly elections that it asked three MPs from Gujarat to fly down to the Capital in a chartered flight owned by an industrialist. Their job was to convince Gujarati voters based in Delhi to vote for the BJP. However, the exercise proved futile since only around 200 people turned up for the rally addressed by the Gujarat MPs.
February 10, the day of counting in the Delhi Assembly elections, is a busy day for many. The Prime Minister is to meet Indian diplomats from all foreign missions, who have been summoned by the new Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar. A governors’ conference is being held in Rashtrapati Bhavan. BJP president Amit Shah has fixed the marriage of his son Jai in Ahmedabad on the same day, indicating that Shah at least seems confident of victory.
Amending tenure clause
In view of the series of interviews that former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh gave after she was unceremoniously told to resign to make way for S Jaishankar, the government is taking no chances. It is keen to avoid such a situation in future. The rule for the tenure of foreign secretary has been amended to state that the tenure is for two years or until further orders, whichever is earlier.
Narendra Modi’s bespoke suit, with his name woven in the stripes, generated a lot of interest within the BJP too. An old-timer in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government recalls that the former prime minister too was once gifted an expensive shawl with his name woven into the border. Not only did the then prime minister not wear the shawl but he did not bother to reclaim it from the toshakhana, says the old-timer.