Finance minister Arun Jaitley was at an international conference in Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan when culture minister Mahesh Sharma’s daughter came up to him and said in a very concerned voice that Nirmala was serious and in ICU in her father’s Kailash Hospital in Noida. Jaitley was taken aback since he had seen the MoS for commerce just a day earlier and she seemed perfectly fit. Jaitley and his ministerial colleagues Piyush Goyal and Dharmendra Pradhan immediately headed for the hospital. They reached the Delhi border when Jaitley got a call from his residence saying that someone was waiting to meet him. The minister explained that he was rushing to the hospital to meet Nirmala. His wife Sangita was quick to realise the misunderstanding. The Nirmala in hospital was one of Sangita’s domestic helps who had taken ill, not Nirmala Sitharaman. An amused Sitharaman, who later heard about the mix-up, asked Goyal and Pradhan why they had not got back to her. “Because we would have looked like three idiots,’’ was their response.
So concerned is Amit Shah about the presidential election that the party’s July 15 national executive in Visakhapatnam has been postponed. Shah is leaving nothing to chance. He has transformed three rooms at the BJP national headquarters into a war room, equipped with sophisticated communication systems so that the staff can interact with state BJP offices, allies and the media. Though the name of the candidate is being kept a closely-guarded secret, the fact that Shah has set up a three-member committee of Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley to try and reach a consensus with the Opposition suggests that for some reason, Shah is unsure. Technically, the government has the required numbers, but perhaps the BJP president fears cross-voting by disgruntled elements from within the BJP’s ranks,
if the candidate does not inspire confidence.
After its dismal UP Assembly performance, the Congress has dumped poll strategist Prashant Kishor, though he protested that the ungrateful party forgets the Congress did win in Punjab and got more seats than the BJP in Goa. But it looks like Kishor has found a new party to advise and one with deep pockets. Jagan Reddy of YSR Congress is talking to Kishor and so he is looking for Telugu-speaking recruits for his team.
Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan feels the Centre is deliberately putting him down. Chouhan went on a fast to bring about a settlement with some 60 lakh agitating farmers, but when he called off his fast after 28 hours, there was no minister from Delhi to demonstrate solidarity. Unlike UP and Maharashtra, Chouhan was not given a clearance from the Centre to declare a farm loan waiver. In fact, the Centre is furious with Chouhan for announcing a steep `1 crore compensation for the families of each of the victims killed in police firing, as it would set a precedent.
The PMO, which has been getting feedback from markets, farmers and the IB, is apprehensive that when the GST is implemented from July 1, there could be an initial backlash, like with demonetisation. Revenue secretary Hashmukh Adhiya, a Gujarat cadre IAS officer who is close to Narendra Modi, has visited several state capitals. He has cautioned the PM that there could be a negative reaction initially. To counter expected criticism, Modi has asked his ministers to explain the government position to the media and visit state capitals. From June 30 to July 5, ministers will be stationed at select district headquarters to explain the salient features of GST.
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OPS Panneerselvam’s challenge to Tamil Nadu chief minister EK Palaniswami is slowly evaporating. The latest defector from his camp is M Pandiarajan, an MLA and former minister in Jayalalithaa’s Cabinet. Pandiarajan is planning to join actor Rajnikanth when he formally announces his political party. The joke in the AIADMK is that he will not be missed since it invariably meant a kiss of death. Initially, he was with GK Moopanar, who passed away shortly afterwards. Then he sided with actor Vijayakanth, whose political career failed to take off. Later, he joined Jayalalithaa, who died tragically. After Jayalalithaa’s death, he sided with Panneerselvam whose political clout is fast waning. The joke in AIADMK circles is that when Pandiarajan recently garlanded the effigy of an elephant in a temple, even the elephant collapsed.