Keeping a check
Even the powerful Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath does not have a completely free hand. Back in March, Adityanath had informed the media he would like Awanish Awasthi, an IAS officer who had served as district magistrate of Gorakhpur, to be his principal secretary. A month later, the media was informed that Awasthi, who graduated from IIT Kanpur, would take over as soon as he was relieved by the central government, as he is currently a joint secretary in the ministry of social justice and empowerment. However, on May 19, it was announced that a UP-based IAS officer, Shashi Prakash Goyal, would be Yogi’s principal secretary.
At Amit Shah’s luncheon meeting with senior Delhi print media journalists on the third anniversary of the Modi government last Sunday, he was the cynosure of all eyes. Shah had insisted that top Cabinet ministers attend the interaction, at which media in-charge GVL Narasimha Rao first made a power point presentation. But the ministers spoke very little. Home minister Rajnath Singh sat glumly all through and gave non-committal answers to questions on Kashmir and the UP law and order problems. The normally articulate and witty Venkaiah Naidu, the information and broadcasting minister, was uncharacteristically subdued. Minister for external affairs Sushma Swaraj said she would speak on policy matters on her ministry only at her annual press conference, but she did attempt to make polite conversation with journalists at her table. Shah alone held forth, surrounded on all sides by journalists anxious to catch every last word he uttered. Whether it was on the presidential candidate, cow-slaughter ban or UP, Shah talked down to his guests, sometimes cutting the scribes short without letting them complete their questions. Despite his brusqueness, Shah appears to have been a big hit with TV journalists judging by a photograph taken a day earlier at a similar interaction. The photo which shows scribes gazing at Shah with wide-eyed admiration has gone viral on the social media, with the caption ‘PR karna to darna kya’.
No age limit to folly
There was a last-minute hitch at the Wagah border when Uzma Ahmed, the Indian woman allegedly forced to marry by a Pakistani man at gunpoint, was returning to India. Pakistani officials, including an ISI operative, wanted to interrogate her, claiming she was an Indian agent. Officers from the Indian embassy who were accompanying her were fearful that Ahmed might be detained, despite a Pakistan court order permitting her to return home. But Ahmed held her own during the lengthy grilling. A Pakistani officer asserted that a 30-year-old would not be so “bewakoof (foolish)” as to come all the way from India to meet a man in the interiors of Pakistan whom she barely knew. Ahmed responded bluntly that foolishness has no age limit.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar skipped Sonia Gandhi’s lunch meeting for discussing a joint Opposition challenge against the BJP’s presidential candidate, but turned up the next day in Delhi for a lunch with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He dismissed speculation that he was distancing himself from the Opposition or trying to get closer to Modi. Kumar said he was keen to attend the lunch because the chief guest was Pravind Jugnauth, the newly elected Prime Minister of Mauritius. Jugnauth, like some 40% of Mauritius’s population, has Bihari roots and Nitish is keen for his state to benefit from the Mauritius connection. The PM had a similar idea and selected minister of state for HRD Upendra Kushwaha as Jugnauth’s minister in waiting during his visit. Kushwaha is not just a Bihari, he is also from the same community as Jugnauth.
In Maharashtra, when a man completes 60 years (Shashti Purti), all are expected to take part in the festivities. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis organised the function for minister of road transport and shipping Nitin Gadkari when he entered his 61st year last week, in Nagpur. The guests cut across party lines. Sharad Pawar, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Narayan Rane and Praful Patel were all on the dais, along with the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The guests were surprised that BJP president Amit Shah, listed on top in the invitation card, did not show up. The card was printed well in advance and Shah at the last minute asked to be excused saying he had to address the Delhi media on three years of Modi rule. Two days later, Shah visited the RSS headquarters in Nagpur.