Cause and effect
The weight of the Nehru-Gandhis seems inversely proportional to that of their most trusted lieutenant, Manmohan Singh. While the former earn the kudos for repeatedly proving their talent for self-sacrifice (the latest being Rahul Gandhi's giving up the golden chance of being an automatic neta), the prime minister turns the sacrificial lamb. Witness the recent cabinet reshuffle which is being read by the opposition as composite proof of Singh's weakness and madam's strength (never mind the logic). The sentiment within the Congress is not much different. The reshuffle has annoyed more than it has pleased, and the mood is particularly vile in Uttar Pradesh, where Rahul intends to prove his inherited political abilities. Ignoring the claims of Brahmins, Thakurs and Muslims, the PM is supposed to have made a blunder by anointing a second minister from the trading community, thereby seriously upsetting the caste balance. As for the choice of individuals, the less said the better. Fingers are already being pointed at AR Antulay, who heads the newly created ministry for minorities' affairs. Antulay, it is known, once took great pride in being a Shiv Sainik, and as Union minister in the Narasimha Rao government, he is reported to have changed colours sufficiently to chide a correspondent for addressing him as 'Abdul Rahman Antulay'. 'Address me as AR Antulay,' the scribe was told by the 'secular' minister. What makes matters worse is Antulay's targetting of senior party leaders like Arjun Singh. More trouble for Singh, the merrier for madam, perhaps.
A house for Mr Mishra
A man with permanent interests, Brajesh Mishra, as one would know, had expressed his wish to be kept abreast of developments on the Indo-US nuclear front, only to be snubbed by the government. Mishra, however, despite having pioneered the bilateral deal, did not shrink back from strongly condemning Ambassador Mulford's statement when he needed to. He had it released to the media under the signature of his former boss. A couple of days later, he apparently went to the BJP headquarters (allegedly his first visit since the party lost in 2004), and left another statement for the new party president, Rajnath Singh, to be issued under his name. Singh duly obliged. As pointed out last week, AB Vajpayee has been pushing for Mishra's nomination to the Rajya Sabha in the ensuing biennial elections from his home state, Madhya Pradesh, KS Sudarshan willing, that is. With the nuclear race hotting up, it would do the BJP well to have its man in the upper house.
More proof on how the Padma awards have turned into family business. Last year, Ghulam Nabi Azad had managed to get a Padma Shri for his wife, and Ashwini Kumar and Vijay Kumar Darda had got stamps released in the name of their father. This year, AICC secretary Archana Dalmiya has bagged a Padma Bhushan for her mother, Dinesh Nandini Dalmiya, for literature and Kapil Sibal has got another for his father, Hiralal Sibal. Senior Sibal was a well-known lawyer and close to Om Prakash Chautala, who had unsuccessfully lobbied during the Vajpayee dispensation to get him the award. This year his minister son has got him the prize.
Among the scores left on the wayside by the cabinet reshuffle is Salman Khurshid. The UP party chief was hoping to become minister of state for external affairs, but destiny seems to have other plans. Crestfallen, Khurshid and his wife are said to have decided to get out of their sullen mood by greeting old friends on January 29, which was the beginning of the Islamic new year. But when it rains, it pours. The Khurshids got back angry responses from some of his Shia friends who pointed out that the first month of the year is Muharram, time to mourn the events in Karbala. Oops, nothing seems to be going right for the UP Congresswallahs.
All in the game
It probably had to be. The Union agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, is a changed man. Ever since he won the battle with Jagmohan Dalmia over the BCCI, his interest in farmers have steadily declined. Known to be superciliously punctual, Pawar recently reached a parliamentary consultative committee meeting two hours late. By the time he reached, most of the MPs had left. Back home, loyal followers of this Maratha strongman have been wondering how a grassroots person like Pawar can spend time in Rawalpindi and London while spiralling agricultural prices, inflation and other troubles have been worrying farmers no end. But all that is a different ball game that no longer interests Pawar.
The bad blood in the Union ministry of commerce and industry is spilling over. While the senior minister, Kamal Nath, is quite definitely miffed, Jairam Ramesh, victor and minister of state for Nath's ministry, cannot hide his glee. Asked when he was taking charge, Ramesh is said to have quipped that it was the senior minister who was 'always charged'. However, there was surprise in store for the new minister. In Udyog Bhawan, Ramesh confidently occupied the room next to Nath's on the ground floor. Two days passed peacefully. On the third, when Ramesh was about to enter his room (or what he thought was his room), he happened to look at the name plate. It read Ashwini Kumar, MoS, industry. It was Jairam's turn to be upset. No amount of missives to the PMO or 10 Janpath could unsettle Kumar from the room. Ashwini, a lawyer from Punjab, had done his homework. The influential estate manager of the building was a country cousin. Well, winners don't always take all.