Minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari is one Central minister who does not get completely overshadowed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During the recent inauguration of Phase 1 of the Delhi-Meerut Expressway (DME) and Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE), Gadkari was in an open car alongside the PM’s vehicle all along the route. He managed to garner a lot of the limelight as he waved and smiled at the crowds. It was an unusual gesture on the part of the PM, who normally is the sole star at such road shows.
Gadkari’s face was also prominently displayed in advertisements of the event. Gadkari gets credit for ensuring the expressway was completed in record time. In the bargain, two chairmen of the National Highway Authority of India lost their jobs. In 2016, the deadline for this sector of the expressway was 500 days. But for six months there was no movement on the project and chairman Raghav Chandra was transferred.
Some months ago, when the Supreme Court enquired from the government counsel why the expressway was still not open to the public, the response was that the work was over, the NHAI was simply waiting for a suitable date from the PM for the formal inauguration. The information, which embarrassed the PM, was in fact incorrect since the railway overbridge had yet to be constructed. The incumbent NHAI chairperson was moved out as a consequence.
When Narendra Modi arrived at the convocation ceremony for West Bengal’s Visva Bharati University, cries of ‘Modi, Modi’ greeted the PM, who is also the Central university’s chancellor. Many wondered whether Modi mania had reached the youth in Mamta Banerjee’s bastion. Particularly, as the West Bengal CM was present along with the Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina at the convocation. Actually, the BJP state unit had requested the Central government’s HRD department to provide 150 invitations which were distributed among party loyalists, including Roopa Ganguly, Dilip Ghosh and Mukul Roy.
A sizable number of the sloganeers were part of the BJP contingent. Since the convocation was held after several years there were some 10,000 post graduates and doctorate holders waiting to get their degrees under a tarpaulin roof in the hot sun. SPG security regulations did not permit water bottles to be brought to the venue. Only a limited number of water pouches were distributed by the organisers while people kept shouting for water. The PM went out of his way to apologise for the poor arrangements.
When the results of the Karnataka poll first came, TV anchor Navika Kumar asked BJP general secretary Ram Madhav how the party planned to cobble together enough MLAs to form a majority. Madhav laughed, “Don’t worry, we have Amit Shah.” But after Karnataka and the recent defeat in the bypolls, Shah no longer appears invincible. Perhaps this is why Shah presented a different face at the BJP’s fourth year anniversary press lunch this year, compared to a year earlier.
In 2017, Shah held forth regally without much interruption and snubbed the few scribes asking, what he considered, irreverent questions. This year Shah was noticeably more genial, joked and responded logically to all queries and did not imply contemptuously that the journalists were ignorant of politics.
Me Too effect
There is a guessing game on in Mumbai as to the identity of the influential Indian politician — an author, scholar, barrister and a leading figure in the city’s social life in yesteryears — who is mentioned in an article in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. The Pakistani author Sophia Naz writes about her own mother, who was the first wife of the politician, who has since passed away. She claims that the man grossly maltreated and physically abused her mother and that she eventually plucked up enough courage to leave him after seven years.
The unnamed politician, who later remarried and fathered a distinguished family, snatched away their two children from his defenceless first wife and never permitted her to see them. The heartbroken woman later left India and married a Pakistani. Naz recalls her mother’s beauty, grace and singing talent and says that director K Asif was actually keen to cast her as Anarkali in his magnum opus Mughal-e-Azam. Curiosity about Naz’s mother’s story seems to be growing in India with several websites and newspapers reproducing the article.
At the passing-out parade at the National Defence Academy last week, President Ram Nath Kovind made a moving exception to the tradition that individuals are seldom mentioned in a presidential NDA address. Kovind referred to Subedar Major Rajeev Kumar Rai, a war veteran who had trained the cadets for the ceremony. Tragically, Rai passed away just a few days before the parade.