Why Sushil Kumar Shinde? Millions of countrymen sought an answer as to why the minister for power should be made the second-most powerful man in the Union cabinet after there was shocking proof of his incompetence. The query made the rounds in political circles too, but it was put differently. A clutch of Congressmen were found asking themselves why Shinde, junior to them in age and experience, should be singled out for such a favour. They may have found an answer. Those close to 10 Janpath, the fount of power, point to Shinde’s record ability to win one election after another from Solapur. Shinde has also accepted every word emanating from 10 Janpath as command, even if it meant a demotion. He did not utter a word when he was unseated from the chief minister’s chair in Maharashtra and asked to take up the post of governor of Andhra Pradesh. He also remained silent when in 2002 he was asked to fight the vice-presidential contest that meant a sure defeat. In AICC folklore, Shinde has now joined the league of Ahmad Patel and AK Antony, who are part of Madam’s A team. Any more questions about the requirements for the top job?
Those who were surprised by the sight of VK Singh, the former chief of the Indian army, jostling with members of Team Anna at the Jantar Mantar, included Kailash Tyagi, a professor at the Barkatullah University in Bhopal. As the army chief, Singh had enrolled himself under Professor Tyagi for a PhD in 2010. But since then, progress has been tardy. The supervisor had expected Singh’s research into the geo-strategy of Wakhan, an Afghan territory of critical importance, to pick up pace after his retirement. But it seems both Tyagi and Wakhan may have to wait as Singh gets drawn into the drama of a political formation headed by Anna.
It all seems part of the new deal between Sharad Pawar’s NCP and the Congress. The PMO website no longer has a list of Union ministers in order of seniority. The disappearance of the page listing the names of cabinet ministers coincided with Pranab Mukherjee’s exit from the cabinet. The timing also coincided with Pawar’s protest against the new pecking order that had put him below AK Antony. The official website is likely to be reloaded, this time not with names listed according to seniority but in alphabetical order.
Delhi is still a long way off, but Haryana isn’t. Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamul Congress are trying their utmost to expand their influence in the northern states. With Himachal Pradesh scheduled to have its assembly election this year and Haryana in 2014, Didi is planning to put up candidates in both. She has entrusted the job to her financer and business strategist, KD Singh. The MP has diligently taken on the job, joining the farmer’s dharna in Haryana recently. For the past few weeks, FM stations are reported to have belted out TMC advertisements, requesting the people to join the party. On July 29, Singh announced a cash relief of Rs 2 lakh each for the families of the three farmers who had died during an agitation against the upcoming nuclear plant in Gorakhpur. He also promised that his party would raise the issue in Parliament. That the TMC has struck an emotional chord was evident when a woman, one of the many agitators, walked up to Singh to tie a rakhi on his wrist. The result of Singh’s hard work is showing in other ways too. Many people have started joining the party. One of the first to join the TMC bandwagon was Sunder Pal Singh, the erstwhile media adviser of the Haryana CM, Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Omita Paul, who had made herself indispensable to Pranab Mukherjee during his stint in the North and the South Blocks, is believed to be making her presence felt in the presidential palace as well. Getting access to the first citizen of the country is not so easy, given the fact that one has to get past Paul first. The first non-IAS secretary to the president, Paul is said to be controlling matters related to Mukherjee in a diligent manner.
As Mukherjee’s adviser during his stint in both the finance and external affairs ministries, Paul had been an unquestionable presence at every meeting that featured him. One wonders whether she will maintain that record even during exclusive meetings that often take place between the president and the prime minister.
Pratibha Patil is believed to be miffed with reports that she took away gifts that were given to her in her capacity as president. Patil is at pains explaining that the gifts that have left the presidential palace are meant for a museum that showcases her journey from Amravati to Delhi. A contract has also been signed between Rashtrapati Bhavan and the trustees of the museum with a clause that the gifts can be returned at any point of time. Patil, who was deeply touched by the UPA’s farewell gift of a Kashmiri carpet, is understandably wary of any talk about gifts.