From office to(i)let for Kamal Nath to Rahul Gandhi in fast lane, here’s an insider’s account

By: | Updated: July 3, 2016 7:20 AM

Following the Chinese veto on India joining the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group in Seoul, President Pranab Mukherjee summoned foreign secretary

Rahul gandhi, punjabThe Bihar government pays R10,000 a month as pension to those jailed during Emergency for taking part in the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement. The amount was initially between R500 and R2,500, but was raised in 2007. (Reuters)

Office to(i)let

With the old Congress party officebearers still in place and with new appointees such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath and Asha Kumari, there is a shortage of office space at the Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road. Azad was allotted a spacious room in the main building, but Nath had no option but to settle for a tiny room in the annexe at the back. The aristocratic Nath is the seniormost Congress parliamentarian, having been elected for a record nine times. He does not function from the party office, but prefers to instead operate from his residence at Tughlak Road. The buzz is that he might not have agreed to accept the allotted office space at all had he known that it was a toilet, which had been turned into an office.

Following the Chinese veto on India joining the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in Seoul, President Pranab Mukherjee summoned foreign secretary S Jaishankar for a meeting. Mukherjee, a former foreign minister, wanted to be briefed on the reasons for India’s failure to bring China around.

He had earlier raised the issue of Chinese support for India’s NSG ambitions in talks with President Xi Jingping during his visit to that country in May.

Noisy nights

In his book India Rising, journalist Ravi Velloor writes that Rahul Gandhi wants to live a life as near normal as his pedigree and position would allow. However, he recounts, a senior bureaucrat whose government bungalow is not far from Rahul’s residence on Tughlak Lane had complained to him of the nuisance that the Gandhi scion and friends often create—getting the SPG to close off Aurangzeb Road in central New Delhi, so that they could race around on high-powered motorbikes in the middle of the night.

Special perk

The Bihar government pays R10,000 a month as pension to those jailed during Emergency for taking part in the Jayaprakash Narayan-led movement. The amount was initially between R500 and R2,500, but was raised in 2007.

The scheme now costs the state exchequer R2.43 crore a month. Beneficiaries are well-heeled politicians from various non-Congress parties, including chief minister Nitish Kumar, central ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Radha Mohan Singh, as well as important leaders such as Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sushil Modi. Some are questioning this price tag for a few months in jail.

Unsung PM

No road, not even a lane, has been named after Narasimha Rao in Delhi, Natwar Singh pointed out at the launch of Vinay Sitapati’s biography of the late prime minister, Half Lion, this week. Singh felt a campaign should be mounted to redress this injustice to a man who was responsible for the spectacular revival of the country’s economy and who radically altered the government’s approach to economic planning. Singh acknowledged that he was no great admirer of Rao during the latter’s lifetime. He also conceded that Rao failed as a chief minister, didn’t have a clue as external affairs minister and although he spoke nine languages, couldn’t take a decision in any of them. He, however, turned out to be a great PM, Singh said.

Mani Shankar Aiyar, the only Congressperson present at the gathering, derided Rao’s achievements and claimed that after the Babri Masjid demolition, the former PM lamely explained to the party that he had followed the tradition of ancient kings by taking the advice of sants and sages on the Ayodhya issue.

Godman and conman Chandraswamy, once closely linked to Rao and also a friend of Natwar Singh, was missing, though he had been invited. In the audience was Naresh Chandra, Rao’s former cabinet secretary and close adviser. He was cheered when Singh remarked that though unsung, Chandra had played a key role in shaping India’s nuclear policy.

Staying on

After the Brexit vote, Scotland has threatened to leave the United Kingdom and there are suggestions that Northern Ireland might want to merge with the Republic of Ireland. But no one has questioned that tiny Wales will continue to link its fortunes with England. Wales may be bilingual, with street signs written in both Welsh and English, field a separate football team and have a distinct cultural identity, but, as a Welsh comedian joked, the region suffers from the Stockholm syndrome. King Edward I of England captured Wales as far back as the 13th century.

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