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Question mark hovers on mahagathbandhan issue

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
By Arati R. Jerath

The big political question worrying opposition parties these days is whether or not Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar will back their joint candidate for the post of vice president. Although the Opposition has decided on a common nominee Gopalkrishna Devdas Gandhi acceptable to all, they are focusing their energies on staying united after Nitish caused a rupture in their ranks by backing the BJP’s candidate for President, Ram Nath Kovind.

It seems Sonia Gandhi’s trusted troubleshooter has been assigned the task of talking to Nitish and wooing him back to the united opposition front. It’s a difficult job. One reason is that the BJP is mounting huge pressure on Nitish to break with Lalu by setting the CBI on the RJD chief and his family. The second reason is the nasty war of words that broke out after Nitish ditched the opposition to support NDA’s Kovind.

Lalu and Nitish called a truce quickly because the exchange of fire was rocking their fragile alliance in Bihar. But Nitish and the Congress continued to slam each other.

The war of words has lessened now. Congress sources say this is because Ahmedbhai has been hard at work to calm tempers on both sides. But a question mark hangs over the longevity of the mahagathbandhan in Bihar as the CBI closes in on Lalu and his family. Nitish values his Mr Clean image greatly and the corruption charges against his ally are damaging his reputation.

Interestingly, Congress sources have let it be known through the media that Rahul Gandhi will stay away from the negotiations to choose a common vice presidential candidate. Rahul will also now try to patch things up with Nitish.

However much Congress circles talk of a generational shift in leadership, it is obvious that there is one person the party cannot do without. That is Ahmedbhai, known for his diplomatic skills and people management. He almost singlehandedly kept the UPA afloat for the ten years the Manmohan Singh government was in office.

Farewell for media by Prez
Farewell was the theme of President Pranab Mukherjee’s last dinner for the media before he demits office on July 25.

The evening began with a goodbye speech by Mukherjee. He thanked the media for publicizing all the projects he undertook during his stint at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The projects included the construction of a convention centre, a museum of arte facts that were lying in a dusty pile in some basement and of course the massive facelift to the building and all its state rooms. Rashtrapati Bhavan is glistening and looking wonderful today.

But more than the publicity, he said he was especially grateful to the media for not pressurizing him to break his self-imposed protocol of not issuing statements or giving interviews as the President of India. Through various controversies during his tenure, like the dismissal of the Arunachal and Uttarakhand governments, the media never sought a quote from Rashtrapati Bhavan in deference to Mukherjee’s strict decorum.

The farewell theme also laced the music that played through the sit down dinner in the banquet hall. As the guests took their seats, the first song that played was ``Sayonara’’ from the movie Love in Tokyo. Sayonara means goodbye in Japanese. When the dinner ended and the guests filed out, the song was ``Chalte Chalte………kabhi alvida na kehena’’ from the movie Chalte Chalte. The songs added a poignant touch to an otherwise enjoyable evening.

Ripples through bureaucracy
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most recent monthly meeting with the secretaries in all the union ministries has sent ripples through the bureaucracy. The reason: for the first four minutes, not a single bureaucrat spoke despite repeated requests from Modi. Faced with obstinate silence from his babus, the PM finally snapped. He told the gathering that their silence was a cause of worry for him and they’d better shape up.

Officialdom is buzzing with speculation about the reason for the behavior of the secretaries. It amounted to near defiance since the PM asked again and again for officials to brief him about what they’ve done since the last meeting.

Modi meets with union secretaries every month at Race Course Road. The officials sit in a semi circle and the PM sits in the middle. Each bureaucrat is supposed to give a monthly report of his or her ministry’s activities and achievements.

It would seem that the pressure to perform to Modi’s standards of perfection is getting to the babus. This is largely because most of them haven’t understood what the PM really wants. There are no clear directives or a well defined road map to follow. In any case, decisions are taken by the PMO and the ministries are simply told to follow orders. This has killed initiative and sapped morale, say bureaucrats.

Ansari allotted predecessor’s home
While Pranab Mukherjee will shift into predecessor APJ Abdul Kalam’s retirement Lutyen’s Delhi bungalow on Rajaji Marg, outgoing vice president Hamid Ansari too has been allotted his predecessor’s retirement bungalow. This is the spacious residence on APJ Marg, as Aurangzeb Road is now called, that was once home to Bhairon Singh Shekhawat after he demitted the office of vice president in August 2007.

Ansari’s term as VP ends on August 10 and the bungalow on APJ Marg is already being readied for him. One of the perks retiring presidents and vice presidents enjoy is a government bungalow for life in Delhi’s prestigious Lutyen’s zone. Pratibha Patil was the only president who shifted back to her home state of Maharashtra after she bowed out of Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2012. Of course, a government bungalow was specially constructed for her in Pune at an estimated cost of Rs 2 crores. It is much bigger than what she would have got had she stayed on in Delhi.

Mamata’s energy impresses Dutch
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s energy impressed her hosts in The Netherlands as well as Indian embassy officials in The Hague which she visited recently.  During her five-day stay, she walked around the Dutch capital, logging 15 km every morning and an additional 15 km every evening. She did this despite her hectic schedule meeting potential investors and addressing the Public Service Day function of the United Nations.

At the end of her stay, she told her hosts in a satisfied manner that she had seen the entire capital city in the best way possible – on foot.

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