Yoga guru Ramdev’s letter declining a proposed Padma award from the government was not entirely voluntary. President Pranab Mukherjee had reservations about the government’s move to bestow the award on a man who had earlier been investigated by the police and had a major confrontation with the Delhi police a few years back. Mukherjee felt personally let down by the swami. As a minister in Manmohan Singh’s government in 2011, Mukherjee, along with Salman Khurshid, had broken protocol to receive Ramdev at the airport. Mukherjee had been led to believe that the yoga guru could be persuaded to call off his support to Anna Hazare’s agitation on the Lok Pal issue. However, Ramdev backtracked and Mukherjee found himself on the back foot within the Congress party.
Given the President’s reluctance to clear Ramdev’s name, BJP trouble-shooters had to make a beeline to the guru and urge him to voluntarily decline the award. The upshot of this was that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also decided not to accept the award.
A senior official in the Modi government was miffed to learn that the prestigious Padma awards are made from much cheaper material than the less coveted and more recent Pravasi Bharatiya awards. The Padma awards are fashioned out of brass, while the Pravasi awards, meant for outstanding foreigners of Indian origin, are made from 22-carat gold. It is calculated that the cost of the handsome award is some R2.75 lakh, while the flimsy Padma award is worth around R200 in pure monetary terms.
PMO’s desire thwarted
This year, the PMO and the ministry of overseas Indian affairs were keen to bestow a Pravasi Bharatiya award on US astronaut Sunita Williams whose parents migrated to the US from Gujarat. However, it was discovered at the last moment that under the rules, the central screening committee is not empowered to nominate candidates, it can only reject proposals. The nominations are made initially by consulates, embassies and regional NGOs. The deadline was over by the time Williams’ name was suggested.
Upholding democratic value
It was noticeable at the Republic Day parade that both President Barack Obama and US first lady Michelle were at some point clutching their own umbrellas. There was a steady drizzle throughout the early part of the parade and the VVIP enclosure did not have a protective awning. The defence ministry, in true feudal spirit, had produced attendants to hold the umbrellas, but the Obamas clearly felt that this was a practice, which should not be encouraged by representatives of a country, which prides itself on its democratic traditions. They insisted on taking the brollies away from the flunkeys. However, when seated, Obama had no option, but to share an umbrella, which was also held over Prime Minister Modi’s head by an attendant.
Detractors of Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi were so keen to publicly censure him for his remark on Narendra Modi’s ‘Indianness’ that they did not wait to first clarify with Dwivedi whether he had been correctly quoted. In the Congress, a reference to Modi’s Indianness is seen as an indirect pot shot at Rahul Gandhi for not being desi enough. The Brahmin lobby of old timers, which fears that Rahul Gandhi may soon be made party chief rendering them irrelevant, backed Dwivedi privately. One party member compared Sonia Gandhi to Gandhari in the Mahabharata who was blind to the flaws of her son. Despite the party rebuke, Dwivedi was not cowed; he was seen publicly chatting with home minister Rajnath Singh at a dinner hosted by a media baron recently.
Not so ungodly
The DMK’s A Raja is true to his party philosophy and is an atheist who shies away from superstition and religious ritual. Nonetheless every Tuesday, 108 children queue up outside his house to receive packed lunch boxes. This ritual will continue for 42 weeks on the advice of an astrologer. Raja’s wife is a believer and she wants to ward off evil influences on her family. After the 2G scam, the family was badly shaken when a ceiling fan in a classroom fell on Raja’s daughter injuring her and four other students. Incidentally, Raja is one more politician planning to write a tell-all autobiography. He has signed up with Penguin to write his memoirs, and the 2G scam will be a major topic in his book.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi hosted a lunch in the New Year for his Congress colleagues and friends in the media at the India International Centre. A gentleman with considerable aplomb approached senior party leaders and was engaged in an animated discussion with them. As he was leaving, a Congress general secretary queried from a journalist the name of the man whom he had been speaking to. The scribe and the host were both clueless as to the guest’s identity. A junior journalist was hastily dispatched to find out the name of the mysterious stranger. The departing guest who had no visiting card claimed to be a wing commander. Conscious that some of them had been talking too freely to him, there was a flutter at the party. Some surmised that the uninvited guest was from the military intelligence, others thought he was from the IB, while another conjecture was that he might even be a BJP mole.