Flying phobia: Union minister of water resources Uma Bharti has a fear of flying and avoids taking flights whenever she can. Within the country, she generally travels by train or road. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Bharti to fly to Tel Aviv as part of the preparations for his trip to Israel on July 4. Five central ministers visited Israel to prepare the groundwork and finalise joint agreements. Bharti suggested to the PMO that the secretary in the ministry of water resources should go in her place. But the suggestion was vetoed, since it was a ministerial-level delegation. On the day of the flight, three officials and two state government ministers were set to board the aircraft. Bharti’s staff had got her boarding card issued and checked in four pieces of luggage. But Bharti did not show up. She was on her way to the airport when she suddenly told the driver to take her to All India Institute of Medical Sciences instead as she was having difficulty breathing.
Not inhuman: PM
Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats in the US House of Representatives, headed an Indo-US delegation which met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May. Pelosi raised what she considered a violation of human rights—Major Leetul Gogoi tying a Kashmiri artisan to an Army jeep, so as to ward off protesters. Modi disagreed, arguing that the major had, in fact, saved a number of lives by his action. The mob was pelting stones and turning increasingly violent, he said, adding that the Army convoy, which was entrusted with maintaining law and order during a by-election in Srinagar would not have been spared but for Gogoi’s “brainwave”.
BJP president Amit Shah, on the advice of his three favourite astrologers from Gujarat, fixed the time for presidential candidate Ram Nath Kovind to file his nomination papers on June 23 at 11.56 am. This also suited the superstitious alliance partners from the south, who wanted Kovind to avoid the “inauspicious Rahukaalam” period. C Ramesh, a Telugu Desam Party MP, placed angavastrams on the shoulders of Kovind and Shah. The angavastrams were supposed to carry Lord Balaji’s blessings from the Tirupati temple.
Palace to castle
With Pranab Mukherjee to retire soon, what happens to Omita Paul, the powerful secretary to the President? Unlike others on the President’s staff who will have to get used to less palatial quarters, Paul, the wife of KK Paul, the governor of Uttarakhand, will have two magnificent mansions to occupy as first lady of the state—Uttarakhand is one of the very few states with two Raj Bhawans. One in Dehradun, a large colonial building, formerly a circuit house, and the other in Nainital, a Scottish castle on 205 acres, which also includes a golf course and swimming pool.
For the BJP, one of the biggest electoral challenges next year would be whether it can actually wrest the tiny state of Tripura from the firm grip of the CPM. Popular chief minister Manik Sarkar has been in power there since 1998. The BJP does not have a single member in the present Assembly and yet the party has aspirations of outright victory. The BJP general secretary and in-charge of the north-east, Ram Madhav, is optimistic. Party president Amit Shah has visited Tripura thrice and the BJP has planned for all its big guns, from the Prime Minister downwards, to campaign in the state. The BJP is encouraged by the large number of Congress and TMC legislators and workers who are moving towards it, and the party is emerging as the real opposition.
Ever since Ram Nath Kovind’s name was announced as the NDA candidate, President Pranab Mukherjee has started cutting down on official trips and has even cancelled some engagements. Mukherjee had put off his visit to Hyderabad in June and three programmes scheduled for July have been cancelled. A stickler for the rule book, Mukherjee feels that now that the election process for his successor has been set in motion, he should begin winding down. He plans to spend much of his last days as President in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Mukherjee will be hosting a series of farewell lunches and dinners, including for senior political leaders, the entire Supreme Court bench, all UPSC members, and the chiefs of the Armed Forces.