The sudden stepping down of Dilip Chenoy as secretary general of FICCI in October last year appears to have been due to differences between him and the commerce ministry over the Indian pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2021. FICCI was in charge of the Indian display. Although the pavilion had in fact one of the highest footfalls at the Expo— probably because of the large Indian population in Dubai—it lacked the sophistication, high tech and imagination of some of the other countries’ pavilions. The Indian enclosure showcased its themes, Ayodhya, Yoga and Ayurvedic medicine, in a humdrum conventional fashion. Chenoy’s defence that FICCI’s hands were tied since it had to refer every small decision to the PMO—even formulating the logo took months—hardly helped his case. His deputy Arun Chawla was appointed Secretary General with immediate effect.
Within 10 days of refusing to renew the FCRA licence of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity because of “adverse inputs”, the home ministry restored the same. “We never thought it would happen so fast,” an MoC staffer admitted. Prominent NGOs such as Commonwealth Human Rights Watch and Oxfam appear to have been permanently denied access to foreign funding, while even organisations akin to the BJP’s religious philosophy, the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam, Shirdi Saibaba Sansthan and Ramakrishna Mission, are still waiting for their clearances. The speed with which the MoC matter was overturned appears to be linked to Pope Francis’s visit to India. During his meeting with Prime Minister Modi at the Vatican in November, the Pope expressed a desire to visit India soon. (The last time a pope visited India was in 1999.) The government hoped it could squeeze in the Pope’s visit before the Goa Assembly elections in February. Unfortunately, the upsurge in Covid cases in Goa makes an early papal visit unlikely.
Despite the scepticism, the first phase of the Central Vista Project, the re-modelling of the India Gate lawns, will meet the January 26 deadline. The grass has been replanted, even if the lush carpet effect will be visible only after winter end. Bridges have been constructed over the water channels. The jungle of wires which obtrude at every Republic Day parade will move underground through special manholes. The new light poles will have CCTV cameras, flags and other paraphernalia unobtrusively clamped on. Collapsible bleachers will replace the old wooden stands for onlookers.
It is an unusual partnership. BJP politician and Central minister Bhupender Yadav has co-authored his book The Rise of the BJP with Ila Patnaik, an economist and academic in the social sciences. Patnaik, who worked earlier for the finance ministry, says she came in touch with Yadav initially when he was on the parliamentary standing committee which cleared the draft of the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, and she has remained in regular touch ever since. After the 2019 electoral win, both felt it was a great idea to explore the possibility of collaborating on a book on the BJP. For Patnaik, a big bonus was that she had access to the party’s extensive archival sources. For a younger generation, it may come as a revelation that politics was not as sharply polarised in the last century as it is today. Several founders of the Hindutva movement were originally from the Congress stock. The founder of the RSS, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, was a member of the Congress Seva Dal. The second Jana Sangh president, Mauli Chandra Sharma, also started his career in the Congress and embarrassed his new party by switching back to his old one when Pandit Nehru offered him a plum post. The third Jana Sangh president, Raghu Vira, was a Congress Rajya Sabha member earlier.
Did veteran diplomat Atul Keshap quit the US Foreign Service because he had an inkling he would be appointed president of the US India Business Council (USIBC) or had he earlier fallen out of favour with Washington? In September last year, Keshap, as stop-gap US ambassador to India, had tweeted that he had met RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to discuss its social welfare schemes. Within days, Keshap was transferred back to Washington and another charge d’affairs appointed. He was not involved in preparations for Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the US later that month. As earlier US envoys have met RSS sarsanghchalaks without any censure, the Biden government’s displeasure could have been because Keshap did not maintain a discrete silence, but felt it necessary to tweet the news.