There was a last-minute change in the list of senior diplomatic appointments announced last week. Vijay Gokhale, the ambassador to Germany, was slated to be appointed as high commissioner to Pakistan, and Gautam Bambawale, the envoy to Bhutan, as ambassador to China. At the eleventh hour, the positions were reversed. Both men have impeccable credentials and are fluent in Chinese. It appears that a heated discussion took place between members of the PMO, MEA and some party functionaries as to who should be appointed envoy to Pakistan. Eventually, foreign secretary S Jaishankar had his way. Bambawale’s advantage is that he has worked closely with Jaishankar earlier, while Gokhale was a protege of former NSA Shivshankar Menon.
A Cabinet reshuffle is likely after the Bihar elections. A casualty could be minister of railways Suresh Prabhu. He was handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, although he was technically in the Shiv Sena. Prabhu, however, has not lived up to expectations. Principal secretary to the PM Nripendra Misra wrote to the minister recently, expressing dissatisfaction over some of Modi’s pet schemes, including railway station development and high-speed train services. The PM receives feedback on the ministry from TMC MP Dinesh Trivedi, a fellow Gujarati, a former railway minister and chairperson of the parliamentary committee on Railways. The committee has highlighted the slack in the Railways, including its financial crisis, decline in productivity and rise in cost of operations. Prabhu might be shifted to NITI Aayog.
Union minister of minority affairs Najma Heptullah did not want to celebrate her birthday in April this year. When a senior leader of her party telephoned her to say he wanted to greet her with a delegation, she dissuaded him, claiming she was out of town, when she was very much in the Capital. To another party colleague, Heptullah made it clear she did not want the customary posters congratulating her. Heptullah does not want to attract attention to her birthday since she has crossed the age of 75 years, and the PM is believed to have fixed 75 as the cut-off age for central ministers. But the fact didn’t remain hidden from Modi, who himself wished her. The speculation in the party is that Heptullah will continue as a minister only till a Cabinet reshuffle. Another minister, Kalraj Mishra, is teetering on the brink. He is 74 years and two months old and hasn’t really impressed anyone with his performance.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar thought he could give his home state a boost by transferring the biennial Defexpo from Delhi to Goa. This has caused much angst in defence circles since a football field in a holiday destination rather than Pragati Maidan in the heart of the Capital would downgrade the event. The expo has been held in Delhi for the past 30 years. The date for the expo was earlier mid-February, the same time as a popular Goa carnival, when hotel rates are sky high. It has now been shifted to April, but accommodation remains a problem. Participants will now have to fly their heavy equipment to Goa and then transport the same over its narrow roads. Even the weather at the time, muggy and hot, would be unwelcoming.
Last year on his birthday, September 26, many Congresspersons, including Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, had called on former PM Manmohan Singh. This year, on Singh’s 83th birthday, few from his party turned up to greet him. Even Congress parliamentary leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Mallikarjun Kharge were missing. Congresspersons take their cues from Sonia and Rahul. The latter is out of the country and Sonia, too, didn’t greet Singh personally. In fact, it was Narendra Modi’s greetings which reminded the public that it was Singh’s birthday.
In Patna, BJP and JD(U) offices are close to each other, on Beerchand Patel Marg, and both seem to be vying with each other in spending on hoardings and other campaign paraphernalia. In contrast, the RJD’s office, on 10 Circular Road, is more low-key. Unlike Nitish Kumar, whose jingle Bihar mein bahar ho, Nitish Kumar ho, is repeated endlessly on FM radio, Lalu seems to be economising on radio slots too.