N M Ghatate, a lawyer and close friend of Atal Bihari Vajpayee since 1957 who visited him regularly, says that two facts frequently mentioned about the BJP leader are incorrect. He is positive that Vajpayee never described Indira Gandhi as ‘Durga’ after the Bangladesh War. The remark attributed to Vajpayee was actually made by then BJP MP Jagannathrao Joshi. Joshi jokingly made a rhyme in Hindi saying that if Indira made Pakistan a “murga”, they would dub her “Durga”. Vajpayee in fact clarified this to Gandhi’s biographer Pupul Jayakar. Ghatate is also emphatic that Jawaharlal Nehru never introduced Vajpayee to a gathering as a future prime minister of India. Nehru may have acknowledged Vajpayee’s skills as a parliamentarian, but he always assumed his own daughter would eventually inherit his mantle, he says.
At a recent meeting of the BJP parliamentary party at which some 250 MPs from both Houses were present, PM Narendra Modi got infuriated when he discovered that a woman MP was video-recording the meeting on her telephone. Modi was on the dais with Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and L K Advani and he noticed that Priyanka Rawat, the MP from Barabanki, sitting in one of the front rows, was recording the proceedings. The abashed MP immediately switched off her phone, but that was not good enough for the PM, who insisted she delete the taped portion. A party functionary took charge of her phone to make doubly sure that there was no recording.
A fitness challenge
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah walked the 4-km route that Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s funeral procession took from the new BJP headquarters to the cremation ground, in sweltering heat. The two men seemed to be among the fittest members of the party contingent. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan sweated profusely and was visibly uncomfortable. Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, 46, among the younger leaders, was huffing and puffing.
Arun Jaitley, who re-joined the Finance Ministry last week, after recuperating from his kidney transplant, was initially scheduled to return on August 16. Following Vajpayee’s death, it was decided to wait till after the week of mourning. Now that Jaitley is back in the saddle it is unlikely that there will be any further Cabinet reshuffle before the general elections, even though the JD(U) had wanted a representative in the Cabinet. Initially, Jaitley will work from his office in North Block till noon and from home for the latter half of the day. The doctors have warned that for some time he must keep a five-foot distance between him and visitors and officials so as to avoid any risk of infection because of a weakened immune system.
The interview by M Karunanidhi’s daughter M K Selvi to Sun TV is significant. Selvi, like Stalin and Alagiri, is an offspring of Karunanidhi’s second wife, Dayalu. She mentions her closeness to her father and claims her father never wanted the family to be divided after his death. But, Stalin, now leader of the DMK, has made it clear that he does not want Alagiri back in the party. Alagiri, meanwhile, is planning a rally in September to demonstrate his support among the party cadre. Selvi’s interview also implies that she should get the same importance as Kanimozhi, who is the daughter of Karunanidhi’s third wife Rajathi and has aligned with Stalin. Interestingly, Selvi is married into the Maran family, which controls Sun TV. The Marans are silent on the situation in the party.
New CP, old AP
The quip making the rounds in the Congress party is “New CP, same old AP”. Those who believed that Ahmed Patel, a trusted aide of both Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, would be dumped by Rahul were proved wrong. Names of Gen Next such as Kanishka Singh and Milind Deora as possible replacements for an ageing Motilal Vohra were talked about. But in the end, Rahul realised that Patel’s contacts and experience would be hard to match. Incidentally, a six-member core committee was formed by Rahul recently to campaign throughout India against the government’s controversial selection of the Rafael aircraft. The committee consists of three old faces, Jaipal Reddy, Shaktisinh Gohil and Arjun Modhwadia, and three new ones, Priyanka Chaturvedi, Pawan Khera and Jaiveer Shergill. The committee had a meeting with Patel and Ashok Gehlot immediately after it was set up.