Even as the Supreme Court judgement is awaited on the powers of the elected government in Delhi, the Lt Governor’s office has demoted chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to the status of an official. Kejriwal is listed as an “official’’ in the notices that the LG’s office sends out for meetings. The word official normally applies to bureaucrats.
Kejriwal is an elected leader who heads the Delhi government. In the best traditions of democracy, the chief minister should get a separate mention in communications from the LG’s office. Surprisingly, previous LG Najib Jung followed this tradition despite his rocky, often hostile relationship with Kejriwal.
But current LG Anil Baijal doesn’t believe in niceties. Till the court clears the air on the powers and status of the elected government, Kejriwal is seen as just another official of the Delhi Administration. This follows the High Court order that the head of the Delhi government is the LG and the chief minister has to route all decisions and files through him.
The seating protocol at meetings reflects the same principle. Kejriwal is seated to the LG’s right while the LG’s principal secretary is seated to the left. In other words, the chief minister is seated at par with the officials, instead of being given a special chair as the elected government head.
The war in Delhi continues unabated although the volume has reduced after Kejriwal stopped his very public quarrels with the LG.
When a journalist’s mobile phone started ringing in the middle of defence minister Nirmala Seetharaman’s press conference in South Block, trouble erupted. Journalists are prohibited from taking their mobile phones into the defence ministry for security reasons. The defence ministry is a super sensitive zone. However, in deference to media needs, officials in South Block used to look the other way and did not stop journalists from carrying their mobile phones into the ministry.
Their only condition was that correspondents should be discreet about it. Journalists honoured the informal code so there was never any problem. But at Seetharaman’s recent press conference, one of the media persons broke the understanding. Not only did his phone ring, he kept talking into it, relaying breaking news to his channel. Defence ministry officials were outraged. How did the journalist bring his phone into the ministry, they wanted to know.
The officials who bore the brunt of the anger were those from the public relations department. The result of the fracas is that the informal special privilege of carrying mobiles in has been withdrawn. Journalists are now strictly debarred from bringing their phones in.
Never mind if they can’t send out breaking news. And officials of the public relations department are having to answer tough questions on why they allowed journalists a privilege denied to all non-government officials who enter the sensitive defence ministry zone.
Pranab Mukherjee began his term as President of India five years ago with a visit to Bangladesh. That was his first foreign tour. Now his first foreign trip in retirement is also to the same country. It’s a sentimental journey. Bangladesh happens to be his sasural.
His late wife hailed from Bangladesh, known as East Bengal before Partition. So in a way, his forthcoming trip is a visit to his in-laws’ home. Mukherjee is travelling at the invitation of a prominent university in Bangladesh where he will deliver an address. But of course, a meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is very much on the itinerary.
They will meet not as prominent political leaders of their countries but as old friends. When Sheikh Hasina’s family took refuge in India after her father, late Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination in 1975, Mukherjee and his wife looked after them. In fact, Mukherjee’s wife was the local guardian of Hasina’s children as they studied here in New Delhi.
The ties between the families go back to that time. And they have kept up the relationship.
Standards are slipping in the ministry of external affairs. The first press release the ministry’s XP division sent out for Prince Charles’ visit to India misspelt his wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles’ name. The division was flooded with messages from amused journalists who pointed out the spelling error.
The error was particularly embarrassing because instead of Bowles, the press release wrote the name as bowels, which has a completely different meaning. Red-faced officials in the XP division had to hurriedly issue a fresh press release in which the spelling was corrected.
It was the sight of kids vomiting from their school buses that prompted the Delhi government to quickly close down all the 6,000 schools in the city because of smog. The government was hoping to avoid disrupting the school calendar.
So the education department ordered the closure of only nursery sections. But the next morning as Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia was driving past India Gate, he saw two school buses ahead of him. And from the windows of those buses, several kids were vomiting. Sisodia realized he had to address the pollution problem urgently and with drastic measures.
So even before the pollution figures for that day came in, he issued an order shutting all schools till the weekend. This is the plight of school children in the Capital city.
It’s a shame that those responsible for providing citizens a good quality of life don’t seem to care about the annual problem of smog in winter across north India.