The Ministry of external affairs treated Indian journalists in a distinctly stepmotherly manner during US secretary of state John Kerry’s recent visit to India, compared to their counterparts from the US. Indian journalists were told to report for Kerry’s press conference at Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan at 3 pm even though the interaction began at 6 pm. They were then asked to wait on the pavement outside till 5.30 pm. The US contingent accompanying Kerry was, on the other hand, allowed to wait in the Bhawan’s lounge. The MEA was perhaps miffed because when Kerry’s original schedule was put up on the Internet, announcing a visit to a Delhi temple, mosque and gurdwara, there were some cheeky remarks on social media questioning why a church was not included, and whether Kerry was sending a message to Modi by visiting a mosque. But the media party from the US was even more irreverent. It highlighted the fact that Kerry was stuck in traffic jams for long because of the flooding of Delhi roads, and when US secretary of commerce Penny Pritzker tripped on her high heels, journalists tweeted a photograph of her fall.
Apart from attracting tourism and making local people conscious of their heritage, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s inventive scheme of painting railway stations in the state has had an immediate impact on the Swachh Bharat campaign. The public, it appears, does not like to litter or deface such beautiful spaces. Last year, 10 railway stations, including Jaipur, Udaipur, Bikaner, Bharatpur, Jodhpur and Ajmer, saw a total makeover. Local artists drew from the traditions and culture of their respective regions to transform the dingy station walls, with paan stains and the like, into bright colourful murals.
It started with Sawai Madhopur last year when tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar got a loan from the World Wildlife Fund to paint the local station close to the Ranthambore tiger resort. Raje was so enchanted with the effect that she got permission from railway minister Suresh Prabhu to paint all the major stations in the state. The Bikaner station has paintings of the floral texture prints of Badal Mahal. The themes for the three Jaipur stations are puppets, cityscapes and Jogi tribal art. Bharatpur station is painted with birds, the Kota station is in the style of the Bundi school of painting and Udaipur’s in the Nathdwara tradition, with depictions of cows, horses and cities. Jaisalmer will showcase the Great Indian Bustard.
It was HRD minister Prakash Javadekar’s wife Prachee who, some years back, felt the need to form a club of BJP MPs’ wives. She found that, at parties in the capital, the husbands were busy chatting with each other, while wives sat stiffly in a corner, as they did not know many people since most MPs are from outside Delhi. ‘Kamal Sakhis’, an association of wives of BJP MPs and women MPs, was formed to remedy the situation. The group meets once every parliamentary session and spouses are now far more at ease at social events. Two women ministers, Sushma Swaraj and Smriti Irani, have also acted as hosts at these get-togethers.
The cordiality between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar when they met to discuss the Bihar floods was very apparent. When Modi saw off his guest at the entrance, the CM held both his hands warmly. The body language between the two men has led to political speculation that Nitish may want to keep his options open just in case Lalu Prasad gets too difficult.
Chandigarh is already charmed by the informality and lack of airs and graces of the new Punjab governor, VP Singh, who belongs to the royal house of Badnore in Rajasthan. The day Singh arrived in the city and drove from the airport, he was perturbed to find that there were long queues of cars along the other side of the road because two of the four lanes had been blocked to traffic for his security. Singh made it clear that in the future, his security arrangements should be minimal. A few days later, he turned up uninvited with his family at a function where lyricist Gulzar recited his works. Singh’s adviser was the chief guest and the governor insisted on sitting unobtrusively in the audience.
Singh wants to improve the happiness quotient of the city by recruiting retired armed forces officers for volunteer work to help senior citizens, the physically challenged and others with special needs.