Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the judiciary by surprise on his first ever visit to the Supreme Court last week to attend a dinner hosted by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi. The occasion was an international conference of judges from neighbouring countries that are part of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) grouping.
The last PM to grace the premises of the apex court was Jawaharlal Nehru who inaugurated the building. But this was not the only surprise Modi sprung on the judges. After the dinner, while his security men were looking at their watches so that they could whisk the PM home, Modi suddenly turned to Gogoi and asked whether he could have a tour of Court no 1.
This is the courtroom where the CJI presides. It is also the court in which cases related to the Rafale deal and the midnight removal of CBI chief Alok Verma are being adjudicated. Both are crucial cases and adverse judgements in either would put the government on the backfoot on the eve of the general election.
It was already 9:30 pm. Gogoi was surprised by the request but nodded his head. A frantic search was launched for a chowkidar who would open the room. Modi entered and went and sat in the front row from where senior counsels address the bench.
Realising the PM was in no hurry to leave, the CJI offered him a cup of tea which Modi happily accepted. As he sipped the tea, he asked searching questions of Gogoi about the history of the courtroom, the manner in which proceedings are conducted, the criteria for deciding which cases are listed for hearing in court no 1, etc.
By the time the PM got up to leave, it was already 10 pm. The judges were tired but intrigued. It’s not every day that the PM indulges in an informal interaction with the judiciary.
The incident assumes significance in the light of recent tensions between the executive and the judiciary and the two pending cases – Rafale and CBI – that have ominous overtones for the government. With his unexpected outreach to the judiciary at this critical juncture, Modi once again proved that he is a master of communication management.
The Doordarshan journalist, Dhiraj Kumar, who survived a recent deadly attack by Maoists in Dantewada, got a shock when he received his salary this month. The public broadcaster had deducted 15 days pay for the period he was in Chhattisgarh when the Maoists struck.
It may be remembered that a DD cameraman and two policemen were killed in the attack. The DD team was on assignment to cover the inauguration of a polling booth being set up in Nilavaya village after 20 years.
It was a horrific attack and Dhiraj Kumar had a harrowing tale to tell of his escape from the ambush. He recalled in an interview that 50 bullets flew over his head as he hid in a trench waiting for police reinforcements to arrive.
But the red tape of bureaucracy makes no allowances for such dangers. Because the DD team was rushed at the last minute, required formalities clearing the visit were not obtained in time. So, the members of the team were marked absent in DD attendance record for the period they were away in Chhattisgarh.
The cameraman, Achyutananda Sahu, died in the attack and his attendance record became irrelevant. His family received substantial compensation for his untimely death. But this was not the case with survivor Dhiraj. He had to pay for being marked absent in the attendance register. He lost his salary for the period of travel in Chhattisgarh.
The anomaly will probably be corrected in due course. But Dhiraj’s colleagues are upset at the cavalier attitude of the public broadcaster. After all, the journalist’s life was at risk when he was sent on the Chhattisgarh assignment. But the red tape of bureaucracy showed little sympathy for his traumatic experience.
Political circles are puzzled by Narendra Modi’s rally schedule for the election campaign in the five states for which results were announced on Tuesday. The PM addressed the maximum number of rallies in Rajasthan where the BJP was thought to have the least chances of winning.
In fact, he addressed fewer rallies in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where the party had fancied its chances to be much better than in Rajasthan. He addressed 12 rallies in Rajasthan, with a concentrated burst in the last one week of campaigning. But in Madhya Pradesh, which is a much larger state with 30 more assembly seats, he covered just ten rallies. In Chhattisgarh, he addressed only four.
Surprisingly, he was comparatively more active in Telangana where the BJP has virtually no presence. He addressed five rallies in the state, one more than in Chhattisgarh.
BJP circles feel that the PM’s decision to campaign so intensively in Rajasthan was more to do with the 2019 Lok Sabha poll than the assembly election. Modi’s strategists believe that the PM’s personal popularity in this state is still high despite a strong anti-incumbency against the Vasundhara Raje state government. They decided that he should invest time and effort for 2019 to consolidate his popularity. Accordingly, his destinations were chosen with care. For instance, he did a rally in Alwar where communal tensions have been high since the killing of Pehlu Khan by gau rakshaks.
Then, he did a rally in Kota, which being urbanized, is considered a BJP stronghold. His address in Bhilwara was aimed harnessing tribal support. And so on. MP, on the other hand, has been a bastion of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan who is seen by many in the BJP as a possible contender for the PM’s post should the party fail to win a majority in 2019 and consider the option of forming a coalition government. Both Nitin Gadkari and Chauhan are blue-eyed boys of the RSS and seen as consensual figures who can win over allies.