It was surely adding insult to injury. Last month, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs handed over the administration of the 108- year-old Gymkhana Club to MM Juneja, a government official, after first invalidating the duly elected managing committee. Juneja, who created ripples in the posh club by arriving with a posse of policemen, was soon replaced by V K Yadav from the Railways. Members of the club have challenged move in the Supreme Court. However, since one of the first acts of the new administrator was to block access to funds, the members cannot avail of the club resources for any purpose, including paying for a lawyer. The administrator, on the other hand, has issued a handsome demand draft from the club account to hire leading lawyer Harish Salve. Ironically, Salve is a member of the club.
Report without GoM
The purported report of the Group of Ministers on Government Communication which was recently scooped by a magazine appears odd for several reasons. The report gives detailed discussions by ministers as well as statements from journalists and businessmen as to how the Modi government can better manage its image in the media. Since none of the ministers named, including Ravi Shankar Prasad, Smriti Irani, S Jaishankar and Kiren Rijiju, have denied the reproduced PDF of the report, it is widely assumed to be genuine. But amateur sleuths point out some anomalies. There is no gazetted notification of any such group of ministers. The document published is not signed. Normally when a document is leaked it is the photocopy so that the source cannot be traced. There is a logo on the letterhead. Participation in GoMs is conventionally restricted to bureaucrats or those formally invited to meetings, not stray persons who were given no indication of the purpose for which they were invited. This has led to suspicions that the report may have been a trial balloon floated by the government either to serve as a warning or test the waters.
The amended rules for Overseas Citizens of India cardholders which require them to get permission before engaging in journalistic activity could silence some influential editors and columnists, often critical of the government. OCI journalists based in India include Mark Tully, formerly of the BBC, and Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Wire. OCI journalists not based in India but who write on their country of birth include Fareed Zakaria of CNN, Bobby Ghosh from Bloomberg and Somini Sengupta of The New York Times. Other expert commentators on India living abroad are Harsh Pant, Kaushik Basu, Amitav Ghosh and Pankaj Mishra.
Last March eminent jurist Soli Sorabjee was eagerly looking forward to his 90th birthday and his family had organised a grand bash. But as the birthday drew closer, the coronavirus spread to India as well. A day before the event, the celebratory dinner was cancelled. A belated birthday celebration in December was also called off. Finally, Sorabjee’s 91st birthday was celebrated on March 9 last week when a biography on him was released. While most speakers praised Sorabjee’s legal acumen, Justice Rohinton Nariman mentioned another aspect of Sorabjee’s multifaceted personality: he is a fanatical jazz buff.
V K Sasikala’s announcement to quit politics immediately after her release from prison came as a rude shock to her nephew TTV Dhinakaran. He was depending on Jayalalithaa’s former aide to back his AMMK in the Assembly polls, to counter the ruling AIADMK’s claim to be the true inheritor of Jayalalithaa’s mantle. Most assumed that Sasikala at 66, with nearly two dozen pending criminal cases against her, had lost her appetite for a fight, and wanted a peaceful retirement, especially when the BJP had put its weight behind Chief Minister E Palanisamy. But, a feud in the family also played a part. Sasikala’s brother Dhivakaran is opposed to Dhinakaran and helped persuade his sister that since Dhinakaran projected himself as CM, Sasikala had no stake in this battle.
It has become increasingly difficult for the media to get appointments with senior members of the government. The Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) was therefore pleasantly surprised when last week two important politicians volunteered to interact with journalists on Women’s Day. Speaker Om Birla invited IWPC members for lunch, at which ministers Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani and over two dozen women MPs were present. A journalist enquired about Parliament’s refusal to renew the annual Lok Sabha press pass for those in the Long and Distinguished category. Birla tried to reassure her remarking, “Maybe later.” Javadekar also sought to break the ice when he came to the club for a frank off-the-record session.