In 2015, Narendra Modi visited 25 countries and spent 53 days travelling abroad. In 2016, it appears that PM Modi will cut down on his foreign travels and concentrate on fixing contentious issues back home. Modi is sensitive to the criticism that he is far too often out of the country, sometimes even when Parliament is in session. Not a single foreign trip is scheduled for January 2016, and so far no dates for foreign travel have been fixed even in February. In March, he goes for the nuclear disarmament discussions in Washington. While Modi will be travelling less, minister for external affairs Sushma Swaraj will be travelling more. Swaraj’s calendar for foreign travel in the coming year is already very crowded.
Arvind Kejriwal was aware of Kirti Azad’s various grievances against the DDCA for the last four years, but until mid-December he never felt the need to take his complaints seriously. Shazia Ilmi, a former AAP member, recalls that she regularly forwarded to Kejriwal complaints from Azad and Sameer Bahadur, a DDCA office bearer, but Kejriwal did not smell a scandal worth raising.
The Delhi CM’s sudden interest in DDCA came after the CBI raid on his principal secretary Rajendra Kumar. Kejriwal is now keen to deflect attention by throwing mud at Arun Jaitley. Advocate Gopal Subramaniam was appointed to head the inquiry commission into past activities of the DDCA, even though Subramaniam can hardly be non-partisan. He bears a grudge against Jaitley, believing that it was he who got his name removed from the panel of appointments to the Supreme Court.
Subramaniam’s name was excluded reportedly because of an IB report, which stated that as prosecutor in the attack on Parliament, he had insisted on calling some 10 officers from the CBI, home ministry and Lok Sabha secretariat to the Parliament compound in the middle of the night. To the astonishment of the officers, Subramaniam prayed and went into a trance at the spot where the terrorists had begun firing.
No spit, just ‘thoo’
To be fair to DMDK chief Vijayakanth, he did not literally spit on Tamil Nadu journalists last week. He merely made the sound ‘thoo’ to indicate that he felt like spitting on the questioner, who had asked whether Jayalalithaa would capture power in the state yet again in the coming Assembly election. Chennai journalists are now up in arms and threaten to boycott Vijayakanth if he does not apologise. The uninhibited former actor does not appear contrite.
The next day, at a DMDK rally in Tanjore, he noticed a poster of Jayalalithaa and angrily chided party workers. Immediately, the DMDK workers tore down the poster. In retaliation, AIADMK party people started tearing down DMDK posters, until Amma instructed her cadres not to retaliate.
Even if the government does not agree to the proposal from speaker Sumitra Mahajan to construct a new state-of-the-art building for Parliament, there is no doubt that extensive repairs are long overdue for the 88-year-old structure. Below the massive central dome pigeons and bats fly undisturbed and the building’s upkeep staff has strung a large nylon net to ensure that the debris of the crumbling roof do not fall on the heads of the MPs.
The fire department has refused to give a fire-safety certificate to the building. It calls it a ‘fire trap’. Many exit routes have been blocked for secretariat staff and party offices.
The ancient drains are choked frequently and let out bad odour. A study by Roorkee University had concluded that the building would completely crumble if there was an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale. By 2026, it is reckoned that there will not be enough space for new members as strength of the MPs will increase keeping with the growing population.
At Sushma Swaraj’s end-of-the year lunch for journalists, apart from journalists on her ministry’s beat, she had also invited journalists covering the BJP. The latter had a common complaint: there was a general failure to brief BJP beat reporters about developments in the party.
The present party spokespersons, unlike those in the past, are not willing to share information possibly because they themselves are out of the loop. Nor are the party general secretaries very forthcoming, unlike in the past when Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley, Swaraj and the late Pramod Mahajan would regularly brief the media extensively and provide insight into the party’s functioning.
Party president Amit Shah is frank and open when he speaks to journalists, but he meets the media rarely, at the most once a month. But if the spokespersons sound disjointed, it is because their briefings by the party seniors have been confused. For instance, it was not clear whether the BJP views Lalit Modi as a fugitive from the law or a victim of the last regime. Amit Shah decided to set up a new media department headed by veteran journalist MJ Akbar, now an MP, in the hope that it will present a more cogent defence on ticklish issues.
Since the 2014 elections, when most of the party spokespersons were elevated as MPs and ministers, it has been left largely to Sambit Patra and GVL Narasimha Rao to hold the fort.