Despite Kirti Azad brazenly colluding with the BJP’s political enemies, the party took a long time in suspending him. The delay was because Arun Jaitley, thanks to his forthrightness and proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has several enemies in his own party and the RSS. They argued that it could be embarrassing to take action against Azad over an alleged corruption issue. The BJP leadership also hesitated because of the domino effect. Shatrughan Sinha, RK Singh and Bhola Singh all spoke out against the party during the Bihar polls. However, they are unlikely to be expelled since that would free them from the party whip.
Amit Shah often talks to the PM on a hotline, over an RAX four-digit telephone. The convention of allotting the leader of the ruling party an RAX phone was started in the UPA government, so that Sonia Gandhi could have immediate access to the PM. The leader of the Opposition is also provided this facility. In Shah’s house, the moment the RAX phone rings, he rushes to it. His wife does not even enter the room which has the phone. The RAX phone is handled by the home ministry, and when the PM is abroad, arrangements are made so that the RAX installed at South Block has an extension to whichever place Modi is visiting. The RAX is also available to the PM aboard his special aircraft.
Big is beautiful
While he was in Paris for the climate change summit, environment minister Prakash Javadekar discovered that US secretary of state John Kerry was to celebrate his 72nd birthday the next day. Javadekar asked the Indian embassy in Paris to buy a small bouquet which he could present to Kerry. Someone from the embassy, however, decided that since Kerry is an exceptionally tall man—standing 6’2’’ in his socks—he needed an extra-long bouquet. The flowers with stems were over five feet high. Javadekar was taken aback. The American media, intrigued by the size of the bouquet, took many shots for the US public back home. Kerry thanked Javadekar for the gesture.
At an end-of-the-year lunch for journalists last week, minister for external affairs Sushma Swaraj waxed eloquent on her bonhomie with Nawaz Sharif’s family during her visit to Pakistan. Swaraj said she started the conversation with Sharif’s mother in Urdu, but when the latter started speaking in Punjabi, she switched to Punjabi. The Pakistanis were taken aback by Swaraj’s fluency in both languages. Swaraj pointedly refrained from talking about domestic issues during the interaction. When asked about AAP allegations against Arun Jaitley, she changed the subject saying she did not know the “ABC of cricket”. Incidentally, the MEA had a tough time transcribing her conversation with Sharif since it was mainly in Punjabi.
Waking up late
The Congress took a while to wake up to the crisis in its Arunachal Pradesh unit and to the threat to Nabam Tuki’s government. Over a dozen Congress rebel MLAs camped at a resort in Gurgaon for more than a week for an audience with Sonia Gandhi. By the time she agreed to a darshan, they had left. The Congress also did not bother to challenge governor JP Rajkhowa’s decision to advance the date of the Assembly for five days, believing Tuki’s assurances that he still had majority support.
None among the numerous high-flying politicians present at the release of Sharad Yadav’s glossy picture book on his life, including chief guest vice-president Hamid Ansari, made a speech. Most assumed that the function was a show of solidarity of the emerging grand alliance against the BJP, since Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal and Sonia Gandhi were present. However, many BJP leaders also came, including Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Margdarshak members LK Advani and Yashwant Sinha. Most senior politicians, including Mulayam Singh Yadav, marked their attendance by simply posing for photos and giving sound bytes to journalists. They did not stay back for lunch. Sonia was an exception, sampling the Bihari delicacies, including bajra khichri. The Congress president did not appear at all awkward rubbing shoulders with the old Lohiaite crowd which had targeted the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty for decades.