Now a number three in the cabinet hierarchy? (Capital Buzz)January 10th, 2010 - 1:48 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Jan 10 (IANS) Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is certainly the number two in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) cabinet and takes charge whenever Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is away. But there could soon be a number three.
A little bird tells us that the mantle could come Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s way. The quiet and non-controversial minister has risen in Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s esteem since he was inducted into UPA-1 in 2006.
Apart from heading a crucial ministry, Antony has a wide portfolio and is now incharge of Maharashtra, chairman of the party’s disciplinary action committee and also convenor of the panel formed by the party to celebrate its 125th anniversary.
If that was not enough, Antony is a member of the Congress core group and has been involved in crucial government decisions regarding the creation of a separate Telangana state. Now the million dollar question among party insiders is if it is going to be official.
A small bungalow for Mrs. Mukherjee!
For a person considered number two in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and leader of the lower house of parliament, Pranab Mukherjee stays in a rather small official bungalow in Lutyens’ Delhi. And the reason is simple - his wife.
“I’m quite happy here. But more importantly, Mrs. Mukherjee became tired of shifting,” admitted the 74-year-old softspoken Mukherjeee at an informal lunch for the top brass of his ministry and a few journalists over a spread that included shorshe ilish (hilsa fish in mustard sauce).
True to his sharp memory, the MP from Jangipur also went on to spell out the addresses, replete with door numbers, of each of the dozen-odd flats and bungalows he has occupied in the capital since he was elected to the Rajya Sabha for the first time in 1969.
Aborted dinner diplomacy
That Kashmiris are voracious meat and rice eaters is legion. So when visions of a sumptuous dinner rendezvous were thwarted by just a cup of tea, some Hurriyat Conference leaders were left deeply disappointed.
Separatist leaders from the two Hurriyat factions had come down to the capital for a dinner invitation with Pakistan Speaker Fahmida Mirza at the Pakistan embassy.
But to their utter dismay, Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz chairman Umar Farooq and his colleagues Abdul Gani Bhat and Bilal Lone were disappointed when they learnt in Delhi that their names had been struck off the guest list because Indian officials, who were also invited, were reluctant to see the visiting dignitary hobnobbing with Kashmiri separatists.
The Hurriyat leaders did meet the Pakistan speaker but it was just over a cup of tea. And the mouth-watering biryani and succulent kebabs eluded.
Achuthanandan dodges diaspora meet
Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan’s absence from the annual conclave of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2010 in the capital left many among the influential Malayalam speaking diaspora wondering.
The state’s Industry Minister Elamaram Kareem was the official face and was hardpressed to give a satisfactory explanation why the chief minister was missing. Sources in the Kerala goverment say he was asked to keep out as he is not seen by the influential diaspora as an investment-friendly face.
“He is embarrassed about facing us as he failed to fulfil his promises,” exclaimed an influential delegate. However, Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi, who also hails from Kerala, stepped in to clear the air.
Two years ago, Achuthanandan had reportedly assured Gulf returnees of maximum assistance but that remained just on paper. Most of the nearly five million Malayali diaspora are located in the Gulf.
Don’t visit Australia for ‘phoren tag’
Australians of Indian origin who have gathered for the annual diaspora jamboree here are not surprised by the attacks on Indian students.
They say there is no anti-India feeling Down Under, but the loud and brash behaviour of some Indian students has attracted the hostility of Australian low-life criminals who find them an easy target.
An Indian Australian doctor for example who has been living in Sydney for decades said he has never faced any overt racial hostility in that country. Indian Australians fully endorsed External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s advice to Indian students and their parents to avoid Australia for irrelevant courses like hairstyling and facials.
“He is absolutely right. There are plenty of opportunities in India,” he said. Many parents send their sons to study in Australia just to get the “phoren tag” so they can get a fat dowry in marriage, quipped one.
What Lucknow knew before Delhi
It may have been a bombshell in Delhi last week. But in Lucknow’s political circles, Amar Singh’s resignation from the Samajwadi Party had been talked about for quite some time.
Party insiders talk about how the loudmouth leader had become a millstone around the party’s neck and that his negative contribution led to the loss of the party seat in Firozabad, where party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s daughter-in-law Dimple Yadav lost a prestige contest to the Congress’ Raj Babbar in November last year.
It is learnt that the boisterous general secretary had completely alienated the extended family of party chief Mulayam Singh and his brother Shivpal Yadav, leader of the opposition in the Uttar Pradesh assembly.
Such is the stranglehold of the Yadav family on the party’s affairs now that even Amar Singh, with his symbiotic closeness to Mulayam, finds himself an outsider and had no option but to resign, though he cited “health reasons” for quitting.
Montek Singh, the ‘defunct economist’!
How does one describe Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia? With his education at the Delhi Scool of Economics and Oxford, coupled with stints in the government and IMF, one would presume he can be called an economist, policymaker and banker.
But at the diaspora convention, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said Ahluwalia can be best called a “practical man” and even managed to make Lord Meghnad Desai describe him as such.
Ahluwalia himself was more circumspect. “With age catching up, I am now a defunct economist,” the 66-year-old retorted, evoking chuckles among the audience, largely comprising overseas Indians.
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A taste of party politics for Gadkari
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) newly appointed president Nitin Gadkari is fast realising that he might be party chief, but he may not have the final say in all matters. Gadkari had indicated soon after taking over the reins last month that the party could think of taking some former BJP leaders like Uma Bharati, Govindacharya and Kalyan Singh back into the party.
But the move was nipped in the bud and one of the reasons given was it did not find favour with the party’s ideological patron, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which handpicked Gadkari for the top job. So the buzz in the BJP corridors is that Gadkari had his first taste of party politics and ever since has become overcautious in terms of making any policy statement.
For RSS, conversion wins over corruption
The big question doing the rounds in BJP circles is why the party agreed to be part of the government in Jharkhand, though almost every senior leader had reservations about Chief Minister Shibu Soren’s image.
The answer provided by a senior official of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA), a frontal body of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh working to stop the conversion of tribals in Jharkhand and other tribal areas, is the parent organisation wanted to stop the Congress from coming to power at any cost.
They feared this would affect growth of the VKA and its programmes.
“We had to chose between checking corruption and curbing conversion, we went for the latter,” says a senior RSS functionary who has been closely associated with VKA’s work in Jharkhand.
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Tags: 125th anniversary, capital buzz, congress president sonia gandhi, defence minister, dollar question, finance minister, government decisions, informal lunch, little bird, lutyens, manmohan, manmohan singh, mustard sauce, party insiders, pranab mukherjee, prime minister manmohan, prime minister manmohan singh, progressive alliance, rajya sabha, sumptuous dinner