1. Inside track

Inside track

President Pranab Mukherjee maintained a statesman like silence when confronted with a spate of leading questions by journalists who were invited to tea at Rashtrapati Bhavan last Monday

By: | Published: August 9, 2015 12:21 AM

The Naga tales
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Monday evening that a landmark event would be held at Race Course road at 6.30 pm, he took most people in the government by surprise, including top officials in the home ministry and the ministry of external affairs. The home ministry was bypassed in arriving at a peace accord with Naga leaders. NSA Ajit Doval was in-charge, with RN Ravi, a retired special director of IB who had handled the Nagaland desk for many years, as the interlocutor. Incidentally, Ravi has a poor opinion of the previous interlocutors for the Naga talks, former home secretary K Padmanabhaiah and RS Pandey. In an article, he had criticised both men, who were selected by former PMs Manmohan Singh and AB Vajpayee. Padmanabhaiah, according to Ravi, “set the course for Naga peace talks on a perverse trajectory’’ and amplified the demands of Naga leaders. Pandey, Ravi said, carried on the legacy for four more years. He also described both the interlocutors as quintessential bureaucrats, ever cautious to avoid controversies, reflexively inimical to initiatives and amply adept at the art of self-perpetuation. Now, within a year of Ravi taking charge, the framework for viable Naga talks has been worked out. But his detractors say the accord is not very different from a joint statement issued by both sides in 2011.

Man for all seasons
As NSA, Ajit Doval has assumed many roles and has poached on the turf of several departments. Most recently, Doval was asked by the PM to fly to Mumbai and ensure there was no adverse fallout over the burial of Yakub Memon. With thousands of mourners present at the burial, it was a tricky situation. Doval met Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and stationed himself at the DGP’s office, from where he monitored the situation. The peaceful funeral is being seen as another feather in Doval’s cap.

Full publicity
The publicity wing of the ministry of external affairs pulled out all the stops to ensure maximum coverage of the five-day visit of Mozambique President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi to India. The MEA, Public Diplomacy Division and Press Information Bureau all put out tweets announcing the president’s visit. Apart from the joint statement by Narendra Modi and Nyusi, the MEA organised a separate press briefing. This was highly unusual for a relatively small country. The MEA was on an overdrive because Modi had pulled up officials for lack of coverage in India of his recent visit to five central Asian countries.

Club class
The government has received a complaint against Vijay Chhibber, secretary, road transport and highways, who was elected Delhi Gymkhana Club president last year. Alleging conflict of interest, the complaint says a contractor empanelled with the road transport and highways ministry had thrown a party canvassing support for Chhibber when he was contesting for president. Another grievance is that Chhibber has appointed several influential persons as club guest members for five years under the eminent persons category, including HRD minister Smriti Irani, BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha, NITI Aayog members and senior members of the IPS, IAS and higher judiciary, apparently in the hope of a position such as chairperson of the National Highways Authority of India post-retirement.

Presidential silence
President Pranab Mukherjee maintained a statesman like silence when confronted with a spate of leading questions by journalists who were invited to tea at Rashtrapati Bhavan last Monday. An incensed Bengali journalist wondered how Odisha could try and take credit for having first invented the rasgulla, the quintessentially Bangla sweet. The President smiled but did not offer an opinion. He made it clear that he had no role in the selection of the foreign countries he visited, his itinerary being drawn up by the ministry of external affairs. His domestic tours, however, were decided by his office and he usually made three trips a month. In the last three years, he had toured all the states in India, except Goa and Gujarat. The omission of these states was not deliberate and he would be visiting them shortly, the President said. Mukherjee also declined to comment on the hanging of Yakub Memon, only saying the President has no option but to accept the decision of the court and the government. Whatever passed between him and the government on the issue would remain confidential forever. He would not even mention it in his autobiography, he said.

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