Inside track: From Derek O’Brien being most visible Trinamool Congress face in Delhi to ‘At Home’ party hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind on Republic Day

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New Delhi | Published: February 4, 2018 3:04:22 AM

Derek O’Brien is the TMC’s most visible face in Delhi, close to many senior newspersons and also NDA leaders.

Derek O’Brien, trinamool congress, bjp, congress, rahul gandhi, president ram nath kovindDerek O’Brien

Flying too high

It doesn’t pay to have too high a profile in the Trinamool Congress (TMC), as the party’s Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien has learnt. O’Brien is the TMC’s most visible face in Delhi, close to many senior newspersons and also NDA leaders such as Arun Jaitley. His recently released book, Inside Parliament, has further enhanced his profile. During a televised conclave, a leading journalist who interviewed West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee made the mistake of clubbing O’Brien and her together as “fellow authors”. Banerjee snapped, saying that whatever O’Brien had written was in his personal capacity and did not reflect the party line. He had not even consulted her before publishing his book, she said. When another journalist commented that O’Brien’s book was a bestseller, she was keen to make the point that her books had fared much better in sales without any self-publicity or gifting of free copies to fellow MPs. A sign of Banerjee’s displeasure is that she has asked Manas Bhunia to speak on the Budget, since several TMC Rajya Sabha MPs had complained that O’Brien doesn’t give them a chance. While O’Brien’s stock is down, TMC MP Dinesh Trivedi’s star is rising. He has been asked to speak on the Budget in the Lok Sabha and entrusted with
other responsibilities.

No change for now

Those who expected that in Rahul Gandhi’s reign the old guard would be eased out fast are taken aback to find that Rahul is in no hurry to do so. For instance, it was assumed that young faces Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia would be automatically named as CM candidates in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where elections are due later this year. But the Congress is waffling about offending old-timers such as Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath. Eventually, no one may be projected as a CM candidate. It was also assumed that Ahmed Patel, who resigned as political secretary after Sonia Gandhi stepped down as party chief, would disappear from the decision-making process. But after the recent protest by fellow judges against the Chief Justice of India, when Rahul met with a few Congress MPs to discuss the party line, the only one outside of the legal fraternity was Patel. Last Monday, when the Congress parliamentary party met briefly after the President’s address, Rahul asked why Patel was missing. Patel, who had just returned from Gujarat that morning, was summoned urgently.

Sparkling tea party

There was a striking change for the better at the Republic Day ‘At Home’ hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind. The oppressive security, with queues of guests lining up to be frisked, was eased, mobile phones were permitted and, in the absence of rigidly defined enclosures, invitees could mingle far more freely with VIPs. The Mughal Gardens, in full bloom, were once again the venue, rather than the marriage-hall-style reception hall constructed two years ago. To make security less stringent, the guest-list was pruned down — from over 3,000 to 724. The practice of including special quotas for friends of Rashtrapati Bhavan employees was ended. President Kovind set an example by not inviting even his immediate family. (During President Pratibha Patil’s term, family and friends from her state formed a sizable contingent.) Kovind and PM Modi deserve credit for restoring the garden party atmosphere of yesteryears rather than the unseemly squeeze it had become in recent times. There was a downside to the changes, though. Those knocked off the guest list are fuming. For instance, the media list was pruned from 350 to 75 and the media adviser has to face the flak.

Kissa kursi ka

The Congress charged that the Modi government had deliberately slighted Rahul Gandhi by placing him in the fourth row at the Republic Day parade. (In fact, Gandhi eventually sat in the sixth row because the SPG wanted a corner seat for security reasons.) But protocol for opposition leaders was the same during the UPA regime. One recalls that on one Independence Day at the Red Fort, Sushma Swaraj, as then leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, protested at being placed in the fourth row. Congress ministers tried to assuage her and Ghulam Nabi Azad even offered her his wife’s  empty seat, which she haughtily declined. Incidentally, Sonia Gandhi was allotted a  front-row seat this year as usual. But she did not show up. Perhaps because she is invariably placed right next to Amit Shah. The empty seat was eventually occupied by Nitin Gadkari’s little granddaughter, who kept
Sonal Shah, Amit Shah’s wife, busy, with her numerous queries on the parade.

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