After the discovery of a major Covid-19 spike among followers of the Tablighi Jamaat who stayed at the Jamaat headquarters in Nizamuddin basti, the Home Ministry and TV went ballistic. Media reports claimed the police had launched a major manhunt for the “absconding’’ Maulana Saad, leader of the orthodox Muslim sect. The Tablighi Jamaat was served a 36-question notice, and, subsequently, there was a raid on the Maulana’s farmhouse in Shamli, UP, the most obvious location to find him. But there has been no attempt to take him into custody and, significantly, the cases registered against his outfit can be tried as non-cognisable offences, amounting to carelessness, if the authorities so desire. It would appear that one hand of the government is working at cross purposes with the other. A section of the establishment believes that the Tablighi Jamaat is a major asset for India. The sect, which preaches the purest form of Islam as practised at the time of the Prophet, has never advocated terrorism or the path of jihad. Nor does it interfere in a country’s politics. The Jamaat has a formidable following of many millions in 170 countries and is well respected in several important Islamic countries. To take action against Maulana Saad would only strengthen the hand of the small splinter faction in Pakistan.
P K Mishra and Ajit Doval are considered the two most powerful bureaucrats in Delhi, and both have Cabinet rank status in Modi 2.0. When Mishra (PKM) took over from Nripendra Misra as Principal Secretary to the PM, it was assumed that he would automatically wield the most clout in Modi’s secretariat. But the recent allocation of reporting authority for portfolios in government suggests that power equations may be changing. Former cabinet secretary P K Sinha (PKS), who was appointed Principal Adviser to the PM in September, has been entrusted with all economic and energy ministries. PKM handles mainly appointments and promotions, the cabinet secretariat and anti-corruption unit. Both men are in Modi’s favoured mould for bureaucrats, low- key and loyal. With Amit Shah as Home Minister, Doval has lost his original turf, as well as RA&W. But he is the reporting authority for Defence and External Affairs which gives him enormous room to manoeuvre in back-channel diplomacy.
Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla met to discuss whether the customary opening of Parliament for the Monsoon Session in the last week of July is feasible. Opposition MPs and the media have already started making enquiries. Before the next session begins, the 24 parliamentary standing committees have to first submit their reports. The discussion centered on the modalities for arranging a technical platform for the 30 MPs from each committee to interact and submit recommendations. Some MPs are stuck in far-flung districts. With planes now flying, this hurdle could perhaps be overcome. But the problem of MPs maintaining a safe distance will be a challenge. In a full House, the parliamentary benches are overcrowded with MPs sitting cheek-by-jowl, since the House was originally designed for smaller numbers.
Maharashtra Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta is probably the most powerful man in the state. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray assumes that the post of chief secretary is similar to that of a CEO of a company and his role is that of a hands-off chairperson. Thackeray rarely visits the Mantralaya, and shows up at the chief minister’s official residence, Varsha, only when he makes a video recording for television. Mehta has been granted two extensions since retirement and hopes for an unprecedented third. He has worked earlier with Gopinath Munde, Sharad Pawar, and Devendra Fadnavis, and knows how to keep his political bosses content. The removal of the dynamic Mumbai municipal commissioner Praveen Pardeshi, is attributed to him. Mehta perhaps viewed Pardeshi, who has since proceeded on leave, as competition. The Chief Secretary’s clout can be judged by the fact that though the CM cleared PWD Minister Ashok Chavan’s choice as secretary, it was changed after Mehta’s intervention.
Kill with Kindness
The rule banning adults over 65 years from walking in parks even after lockdown relaxations makes little sense. Doctors routinely prescribe fresh air and exercise as the best medicine for all lifestyle diseases which usually strike in later life. Instead of corona, where the mortality rate is in any case relatively low in India, far more people than the yearly average are likely to die of stroke, diabetes, heart attack and other ailments because of the supposedly “helpful’’ ban. A more meaningful rule would be to segregate the elderly from rubbing shoulders with possible Covid-19 spreaders by reserving special spaces for them in hospitals and insisting on separate queues for the elderly for rail tickets and other essential supplies.
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