The Congress’s troubles with its allies do not seem to end. The chief of the Nationalist Congress Party, Sharad Pawar, has suddenly turned hostile, even though the NCP has been one of the Congress’s most trusted allies. There are apparently a number of reasons behind this new development. First, reports that Rahul Gandhi might be given an ‘important responsibility’ — Pawar seems to believe that the Congress scion is set to secure a cabinet berth — has set alarm bells ringing in the Maratha strongman’s head. The veteran from Indira Gandhi’s era does not relish the prospect of having to call the latter’s grandson “boss”. Pawar is also wondering why nobody from the NCP is being considered for gubernatorial jobs. To add insult to injury, the Maharashtra chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, who was once Pawar’s protégé, now has scant regard for him and his party. And now there are indications that the Union defence minister, AK Antony, who had served under ‘Saheb’ when he had broken away from the Congress, is now the de facto Number Two in the cabinet. Beset with such woes, will Pawar now take a leaf out of the book of another mercurial Congress ally from West Bengal? Watch this space.
Centre of attention
Meanwhile, the mood at 24 Akbar Road is quite unlike that of the NCP chief. Digvijay Singh, Salman Khurshid and Jairam Ramesh are reportedly gloating over the fact that Rahul Gandhi has acted upon their advice and decided to play a more “active” role in the government. Not to be outdone, the old guard consisting of veterans such as Motilal Vora, Janardhan Dwivedi and Ahmad Patel — Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary— have reached a tacit understanding and are also falling in line behind the party’s young general-secretary. Everyone seems to be prioritizing proximity to Rahul over plum posts in the party or the government. But it isn’t only the old hands who are smiling. Rahul Gandhi’s sudden rise in the party’s pecking order has raised the spirits of his core team comprising Meenakshi Natarajan, Kanishka Singh and Jitendra Singh.
After Akbar Road, over to the Parliament House now. Anyone visiting Parliament should know that the visitor’s card now bears a special instruction for guests. It prohibits them from speaking to the media while entering or leaving the Parliament. The inclusion of this new rule comes in the wake of a few celebrity visitors using the opportunity to give sound bites at length to excited scribes. The poor journos. Having been given access to the premises primarily to cover the proceedings of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, they would now have to spend their hours only covering dour leaders rather than chasing pretty faces.
One such celebrity visitor, Rakhi Sawant — a Maharashtrian — had spoken of Pranab Mukherjee in glowing terms. So imagine the glee of Bengalis if Mukherjee does become president, the first Bengali to occupy the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Known, amongst many things, for their love of hill stations such as Darjeeling, a joke doing the rounds in the corridors of power has a new twist on the preference of the Bengali community. The answer to the question, “Which is the favourite hill station of Bengalis?” is now “Raisina Hill”. For those without a sense of humour, the temperature may have just dropped.
The Rajya Sabha secretary-general, Vivek Agnihotri, already had his hands full as the returning officer for the presidential polls, but his troubles seem to stretch beyond that event. Agnihotri was reportedly cheated of Rs 16,000 approximately by an agency that sent a domestic help to his house. The police have registered Agnihotri’s complaint. The woman reportedly worked for the family only for a day before vanishing into thin air.
Agnihotri’s plight is slowly turning into a common occurrence. Rogue placement agencies that promise to supply ‘reliable’ domestic helps who disappear after they have collected their hefty commission are mushrooming everywhere. Agnihotri learnt the hard way that finding a domestic help is tougher than managing the presidential polls.
Toilet humour is alive and kicking. The latest person to be bitten by the bug is Omar Abdullah. The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister has lately been making a regular mention of the Yojana Bhavan’s controversial ‘smart card’ toilets. Recently, before attending a meeting with the commission’s deputy chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia — who had justified the commission’s expenditure of Rs 35 lakhs on upgrading the Yojana Bhavan toilets — Abdullah tweeted that he’d surely visit one of the much-talked-about loos. A subsequent tweet from him said that he regretted not having been able to fulfil his wish because his meeting with Ahluwalia had gone well. Now you know where politicians go when their meetings don’t go off smoothly.