Keeping his distance
Narendra Modi recently made it clear that despite grumbles from journalists, the practice of not taking along scribes other than the official media on the Prime Minister’s aircraft during state visits abroad will continue. Modi feels the system works well. Because they are not travelling with the PM, journalists arrive a day or two in advance and get an opportunity to do special reports on the country in question and are not tied down to covering just his visit, Modi feels. The journalists’ contention is that it is not a question of getting a freebie but a question of access to the PM.
Not travelling with Modi is just one part of it; the media are not permitted to even stay in the same hotel as the PM. The media is generally put up in a hotel located at a considerable distance. On the China trip, the Indian media party accompanying the PM came back from a bus trip to Xian without being allowed into the Terracotta Warriors museum as the PM was visiting it.
Niti Aayog vice-chairperson Arvind Panagariya has a reason to be unhappy. The former Columbia University professor has not been given the Cabinet-rank status allotted to his predecessor, the then deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia. The IAS lobby reportedly influenced the decision to deny Panagariya Cabinet rank and keep him at the level of minister of state. Panagariya does not have a Manmohan Singh to push his case.
Shah goes national
BJP president Amit Shah has decided that he is no longer a regional leader but a national one. To make his point, Shah insists on speaking in Hindi, and avoids Gujarati, even when interacting with party workers in Gujarat or addressing rallies in his home state. Shah maintains a hectic schedule as party president and has visited all the
29 states and Union territories and personally interacted with office-bearers from every state. When he spends the day at the BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road, Delhi, he eats tiffin brought from home by party workers.
Meat of matter
Those invited by party president Amit Shah to a dinner to mark one year of the NDA government were surprised to find meat on the menu, particularly as Shah is a vegetarian. Shah explained that though he was a vegetarian, he did not oppose meat eating and that only beef was a no-no for him. Perhaps government officials, who ensure that only vegetarian fare is served at official functions out of deference to Modi, can take a cue from Shah.
No gifts please
Modi’s ministers have all been instructed not to accept gifts at their children’s weddings. The “no gifts please” policy was stated specifically in Amit Shah’s invitation cards for his son’s wedding some months back, and the same is to
be repeated by members of the Modi government.
The BJP was very supportive of AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa during her court troubles. Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as finance minister Arun Jaitley and telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad have been in touch. The BJP may be in the Opposition in state politics, but it needs Jayalalithaa’s help in pushing through key legislations in the Rajya Sabha. The Congress’s attitude towards Jayalalithaa is more ambivalent. Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah is still mulling over whether the state government should appeal against her acquittal in the disproportionate assets case. Former chief minister Deve Gowda has advised Siddaramaiah against getting involved in a case which does not concern the state. It was the Supreme Court that transferred the case to Karnataka. He warned that if Karnataka went in appeal, it would upset Tamilians already irked over the contentious Cauvery water-sharing issue. Tamil voters in Karnataka would also turn against the CM, he cautioned.
O Panneerselvam is set to be rewarded for being the perfect replacement chief minister in Tamil Nadu, unlike some other proxies like Jitan Manjhi in Bihar. So loyal was the low-profile caretaker CM to his boss that he refused to sit in her official chair and kept a photograph of Amma in front of him at all times. In the eight months he was in charge, Panneerselvam insisted that every issue be referred to Jayalalithaa. He never even smiled to make clear how downcast he was.