Monday, August 24, 2009

Snippets/ Mail Today, August 24, 2009

Who speaks for the government ?
THE H1N1 and the virus affecting the BJP are the hottest topics of discussion at any gathering in Delhi. But if there is anything that runs them close, it is Indo- Pak relations. Last week, I dropped by at a “ social gathering” that was crammed with diplomats, bureaucrats, socialites and a handful of journos where the discussions centred mostly around prime minister Manmohan Singh’s recent remark about another 26/ 11 type attack being imminent.

“ There is credible information of ongoing plans of terrorist groups in Pakistan to carry out fresh attacks. The area of operation of these terrorists today extends far beyond the confines of Jammu and Kashmir and covers all parts of our country,” Manmohan had told the conclave of chief ministers held in New Delhi last Monday.

This was at total variance with what Home Minister P Chidambaram had said a day earlier in Hyderabad. He had arrived in the city incognito, took a private car to the Gachibowli stadium, stood in line to buy tickets for himself and his granddaughter and watched the best shuttlers in the world ply their trade at the World Badminton Championship finals. Later, he said he doesn’t see an immediate terror threat from across the border. I saw not just foreign diplomats, but even homegrown ones buttonholing a few IAS officers, particularly a few from the Home Ministry, wanting to know if there was a disconnect in threat perceptions between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Home Ministry.

Did Manmohan seek inputs from the Home Ministry before sharing his apprehensions of a possible strike with the chief ministers? Or were his words inspired by the National Security Advisor MK Narayanan who has been confined to South Block’s equivalent of the doghouse ever since Chidambaram assumed office as home minister. We will never know, because babus being babus, they won’t tell even if they know. But two statements, totally at variance with each other, from the Prime Minister and his Home Minister in the space of less than 24 hours does not exactly inspire confidence among the aam aadmi this government swears by.

Graceless expulsion of BJP veteran
JASWANT SINGH’S ouster came amidst much drama but there was one thing missing: grace. A total lack of it. Mystery still surrounds the sacking and with saffronite leaders speaking in different shades, it is difficult to deduce who is being economical with the truth. But based on conjectures, I assume this is how it happened. Jaswant’s Jinnah book was released on the 17th evening at the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial. Though invited, none of his party colleagues turned up. Among them was LK Advani who was already in possession of a copy presented by Jaswant when he went to invite him. I don’t know if Advani has since read the book, but what I do know is that he cited a prior commitment in Chandigarh to excuse himself.

The book launch may have been low profile, but the next morning’s papers didn’t treat it so. Rajnath Singh, who is normally an early riser must have woken up rather late on Tuesday, August 18, because it was not before eight am that he called Jaswant at his house, only to be told that the Rajput from Darjeeling had already caught the train to Shimla for the Chintan Baithak. Unaware of the flutter he had created in his party and the machinations of his top party colleagues, Jaswant arrives in Shimla and checks in at the Cecil Oberoi. On Wednesday morning, he was getting dressed to attend the party think tank when around 10.30, Rajnath telephoned him and asked him not to attend the meeting’s morning session. No explanation was given nor did Jaswant seek any. “ I will get back to you later,” Rajnath said.

Rajnath kept his word. Shortly before 1 pm, he called again. He curtly told Jaswant about the expulsion. No questions asked, no show cause given: just a guilty verdict without a fair hearing. That’s how the wise men at 11 Ashoka Road abruptly brought a 42 year old association to its end. Even the CPI( M) showed some grace when last year it threw out Somnath Chatterjee, a party member for nearly five decades.

SINCE 1962, each year September 5 has been celebrated as Teachers Day across the country, in honour of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the teacher turned president whose birth anniversary falls on that day. For children and for teachers, it is a big day. In Delhi, among the many functions is one at the Rashtrapati Bhavan where National awards to the best teachers are given away by the President.

The winners are selected after a rigorous selection process that starts at the district level and goes all the way up to the Union HRD ministry. Alas, the function will not happen this year — at least not on the designated day — because some mindless bureaucratic moron in Rashtrapati Bhavan forgot to check the calendar. Instead of honouring the best of our teachers just as all her predecessors did, President Pratibha Patil will be away to Russia on a state visit on that particular day. The irony is all the more stark when you consider that President Patil belongs to a family that runs several educational institutions.

Last heard, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal was using all his persuasive powers to save the day while Rashtrapati Bhavan is said to have offered alternative dates. That’s the equivalent of telling children that since the VVIP is not available on November 14, let’s find an alternative day to celebrate Chacha Nehru’s birth anniversary, observed as Childrens day. That would be playing with fire.

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