A notable absentee at the three-day International Vichar Mahakumbh, which was part of the Simhastha Kumbh Mela at Ujjain, was Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Many wondered why the Art of Living guru with a large international following was missing when Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the valedictory session. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had taken pains to personally invite leading gurus and holy men as well as important members of the Sangh Parivar to the gathering. Businessman-cum-yoga guru Ramdev was prominent at the mela and was accorded VVIP treatment. He announced he would make major investments in the state. Small wonder the chief minister is eager to please him. The buzz at the mela was that Ramdev, together with another powerful guru from MP, ensured that Sri Sri was kept out. The Art of Living guru was in India and recently celebrated his birthday with a seven-day yagna.
Animal rights first
Minister of women and child welfare Maneka Gandhi and minister of state, information and broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore were watching TV while waiting for a senior minister in his office. Bihar JD(U) MLC’s son Rocky Yadav was on TV, claiming he had not shot at the victim of a road rage in Gaya. Rathore expressed his disgust at Yadav’s protestations of innocence. Gandhi responded with a sharp remark, “It’s quite like Ganesh Joshi saying he did not hit Shaktiman (the horse).” Since Joshi is a BJP MLA, Rathore was stunned into silence. Gandhi remains an outspoken animal rights activist first and a politician later.
MK Karunanidhi’s estranged son MK Alagiri was confident of Jayalalithaa’s victory even after most exit polls predicted a return of the DMK. “These pollsters from outside, what do they know? They do not even recognise the smell of a lemon,” he said dismissively. Jayalalithaa may have won without any overt allies, but the DMK-Congress alliance had some powerful forces working quietly against it. Alagiri had a big grip on the DMK organisation and remains influential in Madurai and adjoining districts even after his expulsion. Actor Vijayakanth, by forming a third front, cut into the DMK’s anti-incumbency votes while winning no seat, not even his own.
Real power centre
CBI director Anil Sinha has a huge penthouse office with an adjacent terrace. The king-sized room with a special dining space is much larger than that of most ministers and secretaries to the government of India. Sinha’s special directors and additional directors also have spacious offices on the top floors of the CBI building. Ironically, despite their fancy offices, the belief in the bureau is that they do not command the same clout as a humble joint secretary, Arun Sharma, who occupies a far more modest office. Sharma, an IPS officer who was transferred from Gujarat to the CBI, is said to be close to the powers that be in Delhi. He is the only officer apart from Rakesh Asthana who has worked with Prime Minister Modi in Gujarat.
The Taiwanese government was keen to invite some important Indians to the inauguration of the Taiwanese president this week. The invitees included two MPs, the NCP’s DP Tripathi and the BJP’s Meenakshi Lekhi. However, just days before the ceremony, the MEA denied permission to the MPs to travel to Taiwan. Since MPs travel on diplomatic passports and India has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the MEA said they could not go. The MEA is keen to exert itself after the fiasco over the invitation to Chinese dissidents for a conference in Dharamsala, where it was kept out of the loop.
Pollster Prashant Kishor is relieved that he cannot be blamed for the Congress’ performance in Assam. He was happy to bow out of the poll strategy and let former chief minister Tarun Gogoi take total charge, perhaps because his Assamese wife had tipped him off that it would be tough going for the party. For Kishor, the acid test is in the next round of elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Amarinder Singh has made it clear that Kishor has no role to play in organisational and ticket distribution in Punjab. In Uttar Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi has given tacit approval for Kishor to have a free hand even in party matters. Many state leaders feel left out and are upset. Kishor is not getting much cooperation from Congress office-bearers in the state.