Priyanka set to occupy centrestage?
SPECULATION is rife in the Congress about Priyanka Gandhi reinventing herself to take on a more prominent public role in the years to come. This follows her frequent forays of late to Jawahar Bhavan where the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation is situated.
After her father’s assassination in 1991, it was Priyanka who was widely believed to be the heir, blessed as she is with the face that wore her father’s angelic smile and the political craftiness that made her grandmother once the most powerful woman on earth. Therefore, it came as a surprise to all of us when the carefree, sport loving Rahul Gandhi was nominated as the political heir and fielded from Amethi, Rajiv's former constituency.
Priyanka’s politics has since then been limited to campaigning in Amethi and the adjacent Rae Bareilly constituency, represented by her mother. But with the uncertainties of unstable coalitions well behind them, family watchers see in the latest developments some sort of division of duties and responsibilities.
Sonia is the president of the Congress, the mother organisation, while Rahul is doing a commendable job as its general secretary overseeing the revival of the Youth Congress and other frontal organisations of the party. That leaves Priyanka in charge of the RGF and the many trusts and foundations that the family runs. Nothing of course can be dearer to her than the RGF. It was established on 21 June 1991, exactly a month after Rajiv’s killing to, as its charter says, “ commemorate Rajiv’s vision for India… it aims to work in areas which were of deepest concern to Rajiv and to act as a catalyst in promoting effective, practical and sustainable programmers in areas of national development.” Though the foundation has kept a low profile in recent times, Priyanka’s entry is set to inject fresh life into it giving it an international and intellectual flavour that the family so loves. And when she gets down to work, she will have a formidable team of advisors to assist her. The trustees of the foundation include, besides her mother and brother, a virtual who’s who. Among them: Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Suman Dubey, MS Swaminathan, YK Alagh, RP Goenka, V Krishnamurthy and former Commonwealth Secretary General Sridath Ramphal. Their efforts will soon begin to show.
THE newspaper front pages last week would have us believe that there was no more pressing matter than the appropriateness or otherwise of Shashi Tharoor’s “ holy cow” remark. The twittering classes backed the minister to the hilt; the masses in khadi frowned and sought his head.
The debate has now reached ridiculous levels and is it surprising that in the melee, the issue at hand — austerity — was forgotten? It was refreshing therefore to read a report in the Hindu newspaper about the cost of Rahul Gandhi’s three day visit to Tamil Nadhi last week. The reporters calculated helicopter and aircraft rentals on an hourly basis, expenses on crew, cost of ferrying SPG commandoes on Pawan Hans helicopters and even landing, parking and routine navigation charges and came up with a figure of a little over Rs 1 crore that the Congress would have to pay for Rahul’s Tamil Nadu darshan . This was just a week before he took the much televised train ride to Ludhiana where commercial flights don’t operate anyway.
I have been told by very reliable sources that the CPWD had estimated a cost of Rs 12 crores for renovating ministers’ houses and offices. Some ministers have put a halt to the restoration work, though one carried on merrily despite being a relic from the last regime.
He obviously found nothing wrong in getting his house refurbished all over again just because he had been sworn in for another term! I am told official agencies are collecting information about the expenses incurred by some ministers and their bureaucrats in hosting dinners at five star hotels in the city in the last few months. When collated, the information is bound to cause indigestion in many.
Maya out to prove Cong hypocritical
WITH the Supreme Court and Mayawati locking horns yet again, the political pot is beginning to boil. And not just in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP chief’s “ statue politics” has now spread beyond its borders and is leading to polarisation of the kind that we have never seen before. Dalit organisations are becoming more and more aggressive and many more self styled Dalit outfits have surfaced during the last fortnight claiming Dr Ambedkar deserves no less than what successive governments at the Centre and in the states have accorded to Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
You would be wrong if you think the many newly sprung Dalit outfits are fully backing Mayawati’s cause. Unlike Mayawati whose fixation is for statues of herself and her mentor Kanshi Ram, these organisations are demanding a fair deal for Dr Ambedkar who figures low in her scheme of things. They want the house in Old Delhi’s Alipur Road, where Dr Ambedkar lived and which was taken over by the NDA government in 2003, be declared a national monument.
Mayawati's opinion on the matter is still awaited.
After defying the apex court orders for a week and going ahead with statue building, Mayawati acquiesced and ordered a halt but she has hasn't thrown in the towel. The court has deferred the hearing to the first week of October.
But one thing is clear: The Congress is looking for a place to hide. With the assembly elections in Maharashtra just a month away, Mayawati is planning to hit the Congress where it hurts — the state government’s decision to install a 315 ft high Rs 400 crore statue of Chattrapathi Shivaji more than a mile into the Arabian sea facing Marine Drive in Mumbai. It is not her contention that Shivaji should not be honoured.
She merely intends to expose the Congress’s double standards: do in Mumbai what you don’t want someone else to do in Uttar Pradesh. I can’t wait for October 5 for the action to begin in the apex court.