Pranab misses the gup shup ~ Arathi R Jerath
The glow on President Pranab Mukherjee&’s face matched the sparkle of the chandeliers in Rashtrapati Bhavan&’s Ashoka Hall as he welcomed media persons last week for an informal interaction to mark his first year in office. When he was elected president, speculation was that the presidency was part of a retirement plan for a leader who has dominated parliamentary politics for over four decades.
Instead, Pranab da has been as busy as ever in his first year as president. Topping his agenda for his five-year term has been the restoration of Rashtrapati Bhavan to its old glory and its gleaming state rooms are a testimony to the hard work that he, secretary to the President Omita Paul, and a dedicated team have put in since last July.
The Durbar Hall is once again the hub of ceremonial functions like cabinet swearing-ins. The Ashoka Hall has been cleaned up and has never looked as grand. A host of other rooms have been scrubbed, repainted and redecorated with antique paintings dug up from musty basements where they lay forgotten.
And the library not only flaunts antique books and vintage chronicles of the making of modern India, its exquisite floor, hidden under a moth-eaten carpet for years, is the centre of attraction. A star attraction is the collection of the famous British satire weekly Punch from its very first edition published in July 1841 up till 1930.
But Dada&’s biggest contribution has been to throw open the doors of this heritage building to the public. There are regular tours for visitors who can wrap up the experience by purchasing Rashtrapati Bhavan mementos from a newly opened curio shop. A satisfying first year, but Mukherjee confessed that he misses the gup shup (his words) of his days in active politics when he would exchange notes with journalists on current affairs.
Compromise dark horse
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lost out to Sonia Gandhi on the choice of foreign secretary. Bets are now on whether he will succeed in choosing the next RBI governor. The race is on and there are two clear contestants. But there&’s a twist in the tale in the form of a dark horse that&’s suddenly appeared on the horizon.
Manmohan Singh&’s candidate for the job is chief economic advisor Raghuram Rajan, whom he persuaded to return from the US last year. The grapevine says Rajan came back on the understanding that he would move to RBI as governor when the post fell vacant in September this year. But the buzz is that finance minister P Chidambaram has a candidate too: economic affairs secretary Arvind Mayaram. The two share an excellent rapport.
With the PM and FM locked in a tussle, a dark horse has emerged in the form of former finance secretary and current chairman of the Competition Commission Ashok Chawla. His name has started doing the rounds as a possible compromise. Will the PM bite the dust on this appointment too?
The controversy over the letter that was supposed to have been written by Indian MPs to US President Obama requesting him not to give Narendra Modi a visa has become a CPI versus CPI versus CPI-M drama. While CPI-M MP Sitaram Yechury strenuously denied that he signed the letter, CPI MP Aziz Pasha insisted that he did. Yechury issued a terse statement before leaving for North Korea that the letter seemed to be a “cut and paste” job. Much to the CPI-M&’s embarrassment, Pasha countered almost immediately to say that he was present when Yechury appended his signature to the petition.
Interestingly, Pasha&’s fellow party man, M P Achuthan from Kerala, too disclaimed the petition. Like Yechury, he insisted that he hadn’t signed any letter addressed to the US President. Modi has already split the NDA and caused a rift in his own party. Is he dividing the Left too?
Rehabilitation, at last
Now that he&’s going to have to battle Lalu Yadav on his own, without help from the BJP&’s upper caste base, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is busy setting his house in order. As a start, he has mended fences with party president Sharad Yadav. The two were at loggerheads earlier. The biggest sign of their rapprochement is the rise of Yadav loyalist and friend K C Tyagi in the party.
Out in the political wilderness for a long time, Tyagi was not only accommodated by Nitish with a Rajya Sabha seat recently, he was appointed party secretary general and more recently, authorised sole spokesperson. In fact, the appointment of Tyagi as spokesman is significant. He has replaced Shivanand Tiwari, who was considered a Nitish man. Tiwari had earned Nitish&’s ire for speaking out of turn against the BJP during the weeks leading up to the split.
These days, Nitish, Yadav and Tyagi are quite a cosy threesome. They talk over telephone every day, discuss the emerging political scenario and lay down the party line on various burning issues. It&’s big time rehabilitation for Tyagi, an old Socialist and former Naxalite. With his star zooming, Tyagi looks set for a larger national role in 2014 if a federal front is born from the widely expected post-poll political confusion.