Who is in charge?
With Rahul Gandhi’s resignation, there is a big question mark over who the interim Congress president is. According to the Congress constitution, the most senior general secretary presides till a new president is elected. So Motilal Vora has been declared the interim president by the wise men on television channels. The 90-year-old Vora has a new spring in his step as he modestly accepts congratulations, though he admits that he has not received any formal intimation of his new role. Those who have blithely bestowed the position on Vora fail to comprehend that when the constitution mentions the most senior general secretary, it does not connote the age of the individual, but the one who is the longest-serving. Mukul Wasnik, who took over when Sonia Gandhi became party president, is the longest-serving general secretary. Vora was for decades party treasurer and was made general secretary only last year. Ghulam Nabi Azad has more years as general secretary than Wasnik, but not in one unbroken stretch. The president’s resignation is effective only after it is accepted by the Congress Working Committee (CWC). But no one is sure who has the authority to call a CWC meeting. Some members have suggested that it is organising secretary K C Venugopal’s job. But the most junior general secretary is too intimidated to take the call.
The fact that the rebel Congress MLAs from Karnataka travelled from Bengaluru to Mumbai in an aircraft owned by BJP MP and businessman Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s company, Jupiter Aviation, was used by the Congress to blame the BJP for conspiring to pull down the government. Chandrasekhar tweeted that he should not be blamed for the Congress’s problems. His chartered flight service is available to all. It is true that the Congress has to take some of the blame for the mess it finds itself in. Before Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy left the country last week, he was given two pieces of advice by well-wishers, both of which he ignored. He was warned that his old foe in the Congress, Siddaramaiah, was up to mischief. A formula suggested to pacify Siddaramaiah was to make him CM and Kumaraswamy’s brother, H D Revanna, Deputy CM. Kumaraswamy was also advised not to travel abroad at this juncture, citing the example of former Gujarat CM Keshubhai Patel who was away in the US in 1995 when his rival Shankersinh Vaghela staged a coup. For most Congress MLAs, the biggest spur to defect is the party’s resounding defeat in Karnataka in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The Congress MLAs feel they neither benefited from Kumaraswamy’s rule nor gained an advantage from the tie-up with the JD(S).
Back in Delhi?
Arvind Subramanian quit his position as Chief Economic Adviser to the government of India and left Delhi last year citing “pressing family issues’’. But Subramanian, who after leaving his job created headlines by questioning the manner in which GDP is computed in India and criticising Prime Minister Modi’s demonetisation exercise, may be returning full time to the Capital shortly. He is in talks with Ashoka University to head a new institute on the Sonipat campus which will focus on the Indian economy.
Breath of fresh air
Unlike earlier Lok Sabha Speakers who were parliamentary veterans, the present Speaker, Om Birla, is a relative newcomer to Parliament and empathises with new entrants who in the past were seldom given an opportunity to speak. Already, Birla has permitted 100-odd MPs to speak during Zero Hour, half of whom are first-timers. He has also managed to almost double the number of questions taken up during Question Hour by insisting that MPs ask precise questions and ministers be brief in the response. The no-nonsense Birla has done away with some antiquated British parliamentary procedures, including expressions such as “the ayes have it’’ repeated thrice. Instead, he uses the simple Hindi “haan’’ and “naa’’ while counting votes.
Only security personnel and parliamentary staff were present when Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla paid floral tributes to Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s portrait in Central Hall on his birth anniversary. The reason was the unusual timing of the function, 6.30 am, as the Speaker had to catch a flight to Kota at 7.30 am. Even at 10.30 am, the scheduled time for the function to honour the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, less than a dozen persons were present, including Rajnath Singh, Harsh Vardhan and Subramanian Swamy.
This article first appeared in the print edition on July 14, 2019 under the title ‘Inside Track: Who is in charge?’