Shrewd distribution

The distribution of the Prime Minister’s duties during his absence has been such that it ensured nobody feels overly self-important....

Written by Coomi Kapoor | Published: February 1, 2009 12:42:50 am

The distribution of the Prime Minister’s duties during his absence has been such that it ensured nobody feels overly self-important. And many are wondering just who was Sonia Gandhi’s adviser in this shrewd exercise. Singh had informed External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee that he would officiate during his convalescence. But Mukherjee learnt later in the day that while the governmental work was his responsibility,others would handle the PM’s ceremonial duties. Home Minister P Chidambaram assumed he would be given charge of Finance,as he had been standing up for Singh in Parliament,answering questions on behalf of his old ministry even after he moved to Home. Chidambaram discovered that Mukherjee had been given the responsibility of the Finance Ministry. Mukherjee,meanwhile,learnt that the Department of Personnel would be handled by MoS Prithviraj Chavan and not by him.

Vice President Hamid Ansari,who presided in place of the prime minister at the presentation of child bravery awards on Republic Day eve,assumed that he would do the honours on behalf of the PM on Republic Day as well. Instead,Defence Minister A K Antony was told to stand in for Singh at the Amar Javan Jyoti function at India Gate and to receive the chief guest at the parade.

Antony is now 2A

When Pranab Mukherjee left for Sri Lanka it was conveyed to the Cabinet that it was A K Antony who would take any decision in the absence of both Mukherjee and Singh. This has effectively put Antony as No. 3 in the council of ministers,much to the chagrin of an ailing Arjun Singh. Some ministers joke privately that Antony’s position is really 2 A. Mukherjee,incidentally,returned to Delhi post haste from Sri Lanka,spending less than 16 hours outside the country.

Bhaji mein kuch kaala

Olympic medalist wrestler Sushil Kumar was informed by the sports ministry that he could expect to see his name in the Padmashri awards list. But,when the awards were announced,his name was missing. Also missing was the name of boxer Vijender Kumar. It seems the two names were removed at the last minute to make way for those with more political clout. Vijender Kumar’s disadvantage is that the boxing federation president is Abhay Prakash Chautala,a political rival of the Congress,while the wrestling federation is headed by a relatively unknown Haryana police officer.

Equally controversial was the Padmashri to Harbhajan Singh,the bad boy of Indian cricket. Last year Singh was suspended from the IPL matches for slapping fellow cricketer S. Sreesanth. He also got into hot water during the Australia tour for abusing Australian player Andrew Symond and was accused of using the “monkey” word.

Outsider’s RAW appeal

K C Verma,internal security adviser in the Home Ministry,has been appointed RAW chief to the mortification of officers within the agency who bristle at the thought of a rank outsider at the helm. In fact,six months earlier Verma,an IB man,had bowed out of the race for director of IB,because he recently had a bypass operation. Home Minister P Chidambaram,who hand-picked Verma,disapproved of the blatant jockeying within RAW for the top job. Retiring chief Ashok Chaturvedi backed Sanjiv Tripathi,even though P V Kumar was the senior most officer. Chaturvedi had reportedly sent a poor confidential report for Kumar to scuttle his chances. The PMO sent back the file for a reappraisal.

Using his skills

It was Vice President Hamid Ansari,rather than President Pratibha Patil,who talked with the chief guest at the Republic Day parade,Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Ansari,who visited Kazakhstan earlier,found it easy to engage Nazarbayev in conversation. The MEA has increasingly started utilising the service of the Vice President to cement ties with heads of other states. Ansari,a former diplomat and chief of protocol is,at ease in the world of diplomacy,unlike Patil. The Vice President represented India at the swearing in of the new Maldives president,Mohammed Nasheed. Ansari is on an official visit to Myanmar this month.

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