Land of Buddha
Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, Minister of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka, who was in India last month, was keen to visit the famous Lingaraja temple in Odisha. The temple pandas, however, refused to allow him entry as he was not a Hindu. They did not relent even after he clarified that he was a devout Buddhist. Perera relayed his experience at a conference organised by the Kalinga International Foundation at Bhubaneswar, to an embarrassed audience. The foundation’s chairman, former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh, apologised profusely on behalf of his state.
Several BJP veterans were understandably disappointed that the party did not reward them with nominations to the Rajya Sabha. Ram Madhav, the general secretary who has worked extensively to galvanise NRIs for Narendra Modi rallies and to build the party infrastructure in the north-east, and liaised with the PDP in J&K, was a notable omission. Other missing heavyweights included Bizay Sonkar Shastri, a former MP and ex-chairperson of the SC/ST Commission; Vijaya Rahatkar, national president of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha; P Muralidhar Rao, party general secretary and one of the prominent BJP faces from the south; Arun Singh, the party general secretary from Uttar Pradesh; and Sudhanshu Trivedi, the articulate BJP spokesperson. The BJP leadership opted instead for some lightweights, citing caste equations in states. Cynics suggest it had more to do with a proper equation with party bosses than caste.
It was a function which raised some eyebrows. The RSS celebrated the Maharashtrian New Year festival, Gudi Padwa, at the residence of home minister Rajnath Singh in Delhi. Some 150 MPs from different parties attended. Two days later, Singh held a workshop for heads of farmer associations. He wanted to understand their problems in view of the agrarian distress. Agriculture is not his beat, but the home minister obviously felt it was time for him to take more initiative in government. The question is whether PM Modi will be appreciative.
It was an emotional day in Parliament on Tuesday as some 50 MPs were retiring from the Rajya Sabha. A BJP minister joked that while people from most professions, including full-time politicians, tend to leave after a term, lawyers were exceptions. He was referring to Congressman Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s surprise election to the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal thanks to the support of the Trinamool Congress. Singhvi is one of the lawyers for the TMC in the Saradha scam. In the past, several lawyers have secured a seat in Parliament because of grateful clients. Kapil Sibal managed his Rajya Sabha seat from Bihar in 1998 with the support of Lalu Prasad. In 2010, the maverick Ram Jethmalani secured a BJP seat from Rajasthan, despite protests from the state unit, because he was backed by LK Advani and Narendra Modi, both of whose legal cases he was handling. Jethmalani seemed out in the cold after he was expelled from the BJP, but he bounced back to the Rajya Sabha in 2016 with the backing of Lalu, grateful for his services in the fodder scam case. In 2000, the JMM elected criminal lawyer RK Anand to the Upper House. Anand was former PM PV Narasimha Rao’s lawyer in the JMM bribery case.
Mamata Banerjee, who knows how to play to the gallery, was the focus of all eyes when she arrived in Delhi last Monday to discuss Opposition unity. Banerjee’s attitude towards the Congress is ambivalent. She feels that Sonia Gandhi is too close to the CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury and Rahul too junior. Banerjee finally met the UPA chairperson but the talks were more about Sonia’s health than a united front. Banerjee sees herself as the fulcrum for the Third Front. But she has competition. The Congress is irritated that the regional parties, apart from the NCP, are not ready to accord the national party the premier position it assumes is its right. The TRS’s K Chandrasekhar Rao and the NCP’s Sharad Pawar, the oldest contender for the prime ministership, are also waiting in the wings.