WITH one minister resigning from her job just days after taking office and rumblings of dissatisfaction continuing, especially among Congressmen from Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh who between them have sent 53 MPs and in return have got just one cabinet minister, it is still too early to say whether the final pieces of the new Manmohan cabinet are in place. Congressmen from the heartland state are mystified that the Sultanpur- Rae Bareily- Amethi- Pratapgarh belt, the domain of the Gandhis and dominated by the Congress which won all four seats, does not have even one minister.
The last time the area had a representative in the cabinet was when Satish Sharma became petroleum minister in the Narasimha Rao cabinet. While Sonia and Rahul represent Rae Bareily and Amethi, Sanjay Singh, who fought against Rajiv Gandhi in Amethi in 1989, is the Congress MP from Sultanpur while Ratna Singh, daughter of the late Dinesh Singh, represents Pratapgarh for the fourth time. I understand that there was much pressure on the prime minister to include one of the two in the council of ministers, but I presume it’s not Manmohan Singh’s prerogative to decide whether someone from outside the Parivar can represent the family belt in the cabinet. With Rahul opting out of government, only one conclusion can be drawn.
There are no in- betweens for those elected from the Family belt: they can either be ordinary MPs as Rahul has chosen to be, or the first among equals which he looks set to be.
What does shipping portfolio row foretell?
TO the world outside, it appears that all is well between the two largest parties in the UPA coalition, the Congress and the DMK. But the Dravidian party is still smarting from the denial of the shipping portfolio which was held in the last government by TR Baalu. He was sacrificed after a family feud erupted over cabinet berths, but the DMK nevertheless hoped to keep the shipping portfolio because of the Rs 2600 crore Ram Sethusamudram project which is both a money spinner and a vote catcher. Will the project lead to friction between the alliance partners before the state assembly elections that are due in March 2011? The shipping and transport portfolio is now with the Congress whose debutant minister GH Vasan is the son of the veteran Congress leader GK Moopanar and is being projected as the future face of the Congress in the state. At the Centre, the tussle over Sethusamudram is being dealt with by the shipping ministry as well as the culture department, which is now directly under the control of the prime minister. Equally signicantly, V Narayanaswamy, also a Tamil and a Gandhi family loyalist, is the minister of state for culture. In the last government, Baalu had frequently clashed with Culture Minister Ambika Soni at meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs where the two ministries gave diametrically opposite viewpoints. Baalu once even put the government in a bit of a spot after his ministry filed a highly controversial affidavit in the Supreme Court.
I won’t be surprised if RK Pachouri who is looking into the matter shows no hurry to complete his report. So will the DMK use the project to whip up Dravidian sentiments by linking the Sethusamudram to the economic development of the state? Will Karunanidhi and his Deputy Chief Minister son once again sit on a health- fast between breakfast and lunch to play on local emotions? Whatever the father, son and the extended family do, Vasan and Co can be expected to match them step for step.
Deciphering a namaste
IF A picture tells a thousand words, a moving picture recites an entire story. On and off for two days last week, I watched on TV the newly elected MPs taking oath in the Lok Sabha. It can get a bit dull, watching over 500 men and women walk down the aisles from their seats, doing their customary namastes to the prime minister, Sonia Gandhi and the treasury benches before taking the oath, then signing the register and walking back, repeating the namastes , this time aimed at the opposition benches.
It gets even more boring watching it on DD’s Lok Sabha channel because the cameras are static and the voiceovers are dreary. But the cameras suddenly came to life when Kalyan Singh, ex BJP and now independent, walked up. It zoomed in as he bowed before the PM and Sonia. From their beaming faces, you could draw any interpretation. Strangely though, as he returned to his seat past the benches of his old BJP colleagues, the camera shifted elsewhere. The public doesn’t know if he shook hands with Advani and his ex- colleagues. Body language counts a lot in politics but the video editor denied viewers the chance to bet whether the unpredictable Kalyan will walk back to the BJP or embrace the Congress.