Arms dealers and middlemen find it extremely difficult to meet defence minister Manohar Parrikar. He is careful in giving appointments at his South Block office. Also, he keeps away from the capital’s party circuit. On weekends, the minister normally travels back to Goa. When word got out that the minister would be attending the prestigious Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore earlier this month, there were several last-minute registrations from India for the conference on defence diplomacy. It was felt that the meet would provide an ideal opportunity to bump into the reclusive minister. A prominent businessman who features regularly in the society columns was one of the last-minute applicants.
Follow the leader
On June 4, Prime Minister Narendra Modi received Afghanistan’s highest civilian honour, the Amir Amanullah Khan Award, from President Ashraf Ghani. But the PMO was upset that many Indian newspapers paid scant notice to the news, highlighting instead the fact that the teenager in Delhi who mowed down a man under his father’s Mercedes was to be tried as an adult. The PMO obviously made its displeasure known at the poor publicity for the event. More than 24 hours after the award ceremony, party president Amit Shah tweeted about the great honour shown to the PM. Within minutes of Shah’s tweet, numerous ministers and chief ministers followed his lead and scurried to tweet or re-tweet the news, including Prakash Javadekar, Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman, Maneka Gandhi, JP Nadda, Kiren Rijiju and Vasundhara Raje. Party general secretary Ram Madhav wondered at the news priority of editors.
Friends turn rivals
One of the many interesting anecdotes related by journalist Ravi Velloor in his new book, India Rising, was that former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s replacement of MK Narayanan as national security adviser with Shivshankar Menon created considerable bad blood between the two Malayalis, though the friendship between the two families goes back decades. Narayanan felt that Menon had gone behind his back meeting Singh privately and planning his takeover as NSA after his retirement as foreign secretary. Narayanan’s sense of betrayal was accentuated further because Singh waffled for some time over telling him directly that he had to go. Even when Singh was re-elected prime minister in 2009, he assured Narayanan that his services would still be needed in New Delhi. When the announcement finally came in January 2010 that Narayanan was being sent to West Bengal as governor, he received the news with shock and anger.
In the space of two years, former Congress minister Kapil Sibal’s assets have gone up from Rs 114 crore to Rs 184 crore. Sibal is today one of the busiest lawyers in the Supreme Court and commands huge fees for each appearance. While others in the Congress were down in the dumps after the UPA defeat in 2014, for top lawyers in the party, achhe din arrived in monetary terms. As ministers in the central government, they were paid peanuts. Sibal heads this list of Congress ex-ministers and party spokespersons, but P Chidambaram, Abhishek Singhvi, Salman Khurshid, Manish Tewari and Ashwani Kumar are also top earners in the courts. Lawyers have another advantage over other politicians. Grateful politician clients may pay no fee, but some nominate them to the Rajya Sabha. The latest to earn a seat thus is Ram Jethmalani, whom Lalu Prasad has agreed to make a member instead of his wife Rabri Devi.
Out of bounds
Congress poll strategist Prashant Kishor has been given a free hand in poll preparations for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, barring three constituencies. Kishor has been told to keep off the Gandhi family’s fiefdom of Amethi, Rae Bareli and Sultanpur. These are the exclusive preserve of Priyanka Gandhi and her handpicked team.