Stay close by; A moment worth remembering; Seated with the best view; From darkness into the light; Commanding presence
Stay close by
It is not always birds of a feather that flock together, it seems. After the presentation of the Union budget in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, ministers and leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party rushed to the room of the finance minister, Arun Jaitley, for a quick class to arm with themselves with talking points about the key proposals in the budget plan. The one person who stood out in the sea of people, however, was Smriti Irani, the Union information and broadcasting minister - a portfolio previously held by Jaitley himself. Once the other leaders were done getting their briefs from the finance minister, they left the room, but Irani stayed on. She appeared to be escorting Jaitley everywhere, as she was spotted by his side at all times. In fact, she even accompanied him to the Rajya Sabha, where he made his budget presentation as is traditionally done, and then came out with him as well.
Many people wondered why the information and broadcasting minister seemed to be tailing Jaitley so closely. It is well known that after the Film and Television Producers Guild of India had approached Irani with its concerns about the hefty goods and services tax - 28 per cent - levied on film tickets, she had promptly written a letter to Jaitley seeking a reduction on the tax bracket. One official disclosed the reason behind Irani staying so close to Jaitley; she wanted to ensure that he reached the Doordarshan studio in order to give his first budget interview.
A moment worth remembering
Three persons clad in identical outfits - white shirts and blue denim jeans - made heads turn at Meerut's busy Ghanta Ghar chauraha. A closer look revealed them to be the Bollywood stars, Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif. King Khan, along with his two leading ladies, had gone on a cycle-rickshaw ride along the crowded market road. The superstar - who recently upstaged the legendary Amitabh Bachchan as the most followed Indian actor on Twitter, shared the picture on the micro-blogging site and wrote, "Best memories begin with insane ideas... Girls taking me along for a ride called #Zero". The makers of the film, Zero, recently released its teaser and left everyone stumped. The audience got a glimpse of the Badshah playing the role of a person of short stature. At the end of the teaser, SRK has a quirky line - " Hum jiske peeche pad jaate hai uski life bana dete hai."
Seated with the best view
Shehzad Poonawalla, who is often called 'famous for being famous', continues to surprise a section of the Congress. A few days ago, Poonawalla, who is known in political circles as a relative of the Nehru-Gandhi family - his estranged brother is married to Robert Vadra's cousin - was spotted sitting idly outside a venue where the book of the Congress parliamentarian, P Chidambaram, was going to be launched. While entering the venue, Chidambaram spotted Poonawalla and asked him why he was outside. The office-bearer of the Congress's Maharashtra unit - who had made waves when he claimed that his party's presidential polls had been rigged in favour of Rahul Gandhi - said that there was no space inside to sit. Chidambaram escorted him in and gave him a seat in one of the two front rows. This made Congressmen who dislike Poonawalla squirm with unease. But many saw Chidambaram's move as a way to avoid further controversy, given Poonawalla's tense relationship with the party.
From darkness into the light
The outcome of the by-elections in Rajasthan, in which the Congress defeated the BJP, has led to elation among the young lobby - comprising members in their 40s - of the Grand Old Party. Its victory in Alwar, Ajmer and Mangalgarh is a much wanted win for Sachin Pilot, who heads the party's Rajasthan unit. In neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, there is now a renewed call for projecting Jyotiraditya Scindia as the party's chief ministerial candidate for the assembly elections slated to be held in November. Scindia, however, may have to wait - two assembly bypolls in his area of influence are due later this month.
On the other hand, in the BJP circles, there is now a clamour for changing the incumbent chief ministers of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. But this is easier said than done - the Rajasthan CM, Vasundhara Raje, is no pushover, and a substantial section of MLAs from the party's state unit are said to be personally loyal to her.
Given that Sonia Gandhi has nearly withdrawn from political activities, many Congressmen were surprised when she called a meeting of Opposition parties. But she only agreed to step in after some senior Opposition leaders convinced her to take the lead role. They claimed that while there was no resistance to Rahul's leadership, her stature was unmatched. One leader told her that it would be difficult for any party to say 'no' to her while also making it clear that this did not undermine Rahul's authority in any way. Sharad Pawar, in fact, is said to have told some leaders that they must put 'senior-junior' issues aside with regard to the Congress president. Having been thus assured, Sonia agreed to take on the task of forging unity among the Opposition while Rahul focuses on reviving the Congress.
• Rahul, however, baffled everyone when he left without responding to the budget presentation in Parliament, thus missing an opportunity to attack the BJP government's economic policies. Senior Congress leaders feel that Rahul should have got the former prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and the former finance minister, P Chidambaram, to launch a structured response. Chidambaram and others did criticize the budget, and Rahul made a statement later, but his seeming indifference implies that he is still learning the art of politicking.