As Rahul Gandhi takes charge as Congress president, party circles are trying to guess who he will appoint as his Ahmed Patel. In other words, who will be his all powerful political secretary?
Many names are doing the rounds, including that of old warhorse Kamal Nath. The veteran leader is being promoted by a section of old hands who feel that he has all the credentials that Patel had which made him so indispensable to Sonia Gandhi. Nath can be a bridge between the old and the new generations in the party. Also, having been around for over four decades, he knows political leaders across the spectrum. This would be useful for Rahul as the Congress hopes to stitch up a broad-based coalition to take on Modi in the 2019 general election.
But there is a section that feels Rahul should put together an entirely new team with fresh faces to give the Congress a younger and different look. They are pitching Rahul as the Tony Blair of the Congress party. Blair is the former British Prime Minister who revamped the Labour Party to take on the Conservatives in the UK and succeeded.
The appointment of his political secretary is one of the first decisions Rahul is expected to take along with the reconstitution of the party setup with new office bearers. Congress circles are hoping that he will do this quickly to convey the impression of a decisive leader who knows his mind.
Reviving the seaplane idea
The seaplane that was Narendra Modi’s flamboyant final touch to his Gujarat election campaign has an interesting history. It is now known that the plane flew into Mumbai from Karachi on December 3 before it was pressed into service to fly Modi on December 12 from the Sabarmati river front to Mehsana and back.
But apart from the Karachi connection, there are several intriguing aspects to the story of the seaplane. Contrary to BJP claims that this was the first ever seaplane ride in India, this amphibian aircraft has been tried and tested several times over the past seven years in an attempt to introduce commercial travel on the country’s waterways.
In fact, just last year, trial runs were conducted at Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty at which union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Ashok Gajpati Raju were present. This was done in an effort to revive plans to start sea commercial traffic.
At least two attempts were made during UPA rule to introduce seaplanes but both failed. One was in 2010 when the first ever seaplane was launched to the Andaman Nicobar Islands. The project was stalled.
Then the Kerala government tried to promote a seaplane service on the state’s waterways. There were protests from the local fishing community and so the proposal was abandoned.
This is the third attempt to introduce seaplanes in India. Apart from the development message that Modi tried to convey by using the plane, his ride was also aimed at promoting an idea that has flopped twice but which his government wants to revive.
Despite the trumpeting of the close friendship between Narendra Modi and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, diplomats were surprised to see that the government did not send a high-level political representative to the Japanese national day celebrations earlier this week. The convention is that the host country is represented by a cabinet minister or a minister of state at national day functions of various countries that have embassies in New Delhi. Among those who usually perform this function are Jitendra Singh, V K Singh and M J Akbar.
But with the entire government camped in Gujarat for the closing days of the election campaign, no one seems to have had the time or mind space to attend to this matter of protocol. As a result, the government was represented only by officials of the foreign office, which is not quite the same as sending a minister.
Fortunately, the Japanese seemed to be in an understanding mood. Probably they also realised how crucial the Gujarat election was for the Modi government. And so, they did not press for a political guest of honour at their national day.
Union minister of state Vijay Goel was awarded the prestigious UNESCO 2017 Asia Pacific Award for the remarkable restoration work he has done on a crumbling haveli in the Walled City. The haveli is called Haveli Dharampura and functions as a heritage boutique hotel in the narrow bye-lanes of Chandni Chowk.
While the UNESCO citation lavished praise on Goel and his Heritage Indian Foundation for the manner in which they restored a bit of India’s glorious past, what was interesting was the compliments paid by BJP ministers who spoke at the function, including Goel.
So what if Modi was lambasting Aurangzeb Raj in Gujarat. Goel and his minister friends hailed the preservation of Mughal architecture and heritage through the restoration of this haveli. One speaker even talked of “our beloved Shahjahanabad’’. This is the old name of the Walled City which was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
Interestingly, Goel has ambitious plans to conserve more of Delhi’s Mughal heritage in the Walled City. Lahori Gate is one of the places he hopes to restore to its old grandeur.
Wonder what the Sangh followers who want the Taj Mahal demolished would have to say about Goel’s plans.