Breakfast with PM
Among the disclosures in AS Dulat’s book Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years is the fact that Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, the late former prime minister of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, had visited India twice—in September 2005 and May 2007. What Dulat does not mention is that Khan, on one of his trips to India, had breakfast with then prime minister Manmohan Singh at Race Course Road.
To counter the Pakistani backlash after the Ufa talks, national security adviser Ajit Doval spoke thrice with Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit, bypassing the ministry of external affairs. This breach of protocol has embarrassed the MEA hugely as it undermines the position of foreign secretary S Jaishankar. An Indian diplomat pointed out that Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz would never dream of talking directly to the Indian high commissioner in Pakistan, TCA Raghavan.
Advice for Sushma
While speaking to his ministers before the start of the Monsoon Session of Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi complimented party president Amit Shah for his skills in damage control. Modi also had some advice for external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who is under attack for Lalitgate. He warned that his experience of Parliament was that the Opposition would try and prevent Swaraj from defending herself. Just when she was expected to speak, there would be noise and adjournments. Modi suggested that Swaraj keep her defence ready and slip it in at the opportune moment.
The Wednesday meet
BJP general secretary Ram Madhav uses his South Avenue government flat to host a talk for his India Foundation every alternate Wednesday. He invites some 30 leading intellectuals for seminars on foreign policy or strategic affairs. Experts such as ambassadors and ministers speak. The Wednesday dialogue, invitations to which are much coveted, is becoming a rival to the long-established Saturday Club talks at the India International Centre.
Food for thought
BJD MP Jay Panda’s decision to write to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan suggesting the withdrawal of subsidy on food served to MPs in Parliament hasn’t gone down too well with his parliamentary colleagues. The issue has blown up after an RTI query revealed that the railway canteen that supplies food to Parliament got a subsidy of Rs 60.7 crore in the last five years. Most parliamentarians believe they are being unnecessarily vilified by the media when, in fact, over 80% of the subsidised food is consumed by Parliament House staff, security guards and accredited journalists. MPs are barely present for four and a half months a year and they feel Panda’s move is grandstanding, simply to get public attention. The NCP’s Praful Patel believes most MPs would have no problem paying more but would expect better standards than the unhygienic, soggy fare in Central Hall. He suggested there should be a food court in Parliament with private caterers.
The timing of Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif’s gift of mangoes to Narendra Modi seemed odd. The parcel was delivered when ties were on the downswing, soon after the bonhomie at Ufa. It seems the present was merely a return gift for mangoes sent by Modi to Sharif before the Ufa talks.
Jairam Ramesh seems to have plenty of time on his hands since the Congress lost power. In the last one year, Ramesh has written three books. His first book Green Signals was on his tenure as minister of environment and forests. The second book dealt with formulation of the 2013 land acquisition law. In September, Ramesh will release yet another book, titled To the Brink and Back: India’s 1991 Reforms Story. Ramesh was a key aide of former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao from June to September 1991 and he discloses the inside story of how economic reforms came about. Hitherto unpublished notes of Narasimha Rao, Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh and Ramesh himself are included in the book.