Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, February 15, 2010

Why did Pranab meet Patil?
EVER so often, we read in the newspapers about the prime minister calling on the president at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Such meetings are described either as mere “ courtesy calls” or sometimes more serious interactions where the prime minister and the head of state discussed more vital political issues. But it is seldom that cabinet ministers, however senior they are, meet the president individually. That is why eyebrows shot upwards last weekend when within the space of less than 12 hours, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee called on President Pratibha Patil. Apart from being finance minister, Pranab da also heads the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs.

So what prompted this unusual meeting? Did the finance minister meet Patil to brief her about the budget that he will present on February 26? Or was a crisis of unmanageable proportions brewing that the president had to be kept in the loop? Or, as is being speculated, did the twin meetings have to do with the judgment in a case in Amravati in Maharashtra, Patil’s home district, where the president’s husband Devi Singh Shekhawat, a man who has courted much controversy, was found guilty by a subdivisional magistrate’s court of usurping two acres of land belonging to a poor local farmer. Mukherjee met the president over an hourlong breakfast, after which he drove across to brief Manmohan Singh about his talks with Patil.

Later, in the same day, Manmohan Singh also went to Rashtrapati Bhavan and the fact that the visit lasted more than an hour suggests it was no mere courtesy call. Rumours swirling around the Capital suggest that the Opposition parties are planning to mount an offensive against the presidential spouse in an effort to embarrass the government. If these turn out to be true, the poor farmer may get his land back.

Pawar’s tete- a- tete with Balasaheb still a mystery
EVEN more than a week later, the smoke shrouding the secret meeting between Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackeray and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar is yet to be clear. While Pawar asserts that he had only IPL3 in mind when he drove to Matoshree, the Thackeray residence, the Congress party believes it just wasn’t about cricket.

The BCCI president Shashank Manohar accompanied Pawar to meet the senior Thackeray though Pawar is not a member of the IPL board which is an autonomous body, while Manohar is an exofficio member, being the cricket board chief. If indeed, as Pawar claims, it was IPL3 that he wanted to save from the Sena’s army of vandals, why didn’t he take along any of the IPL team owners or the tournament commissioners?
The Congress- NCP coalition government in the state has taken a strong stand against the Sena and the Home portfolio is with R. R. Patil of the NCP. If indeed it was the IPL that Pawar wanted to discuss with the Sena boss, why was Patil kept out? We all know that Pawar wears many hats; what is not known is which one he wore on this occasion. That he is a personal friend of Bal Thackeray is also well known. That’s why many, especially in the Congress, have concluded that the meeting was not about saving IPL3 but about embarrassing the Congress. After all, among the major political parties, the NCP alone has not come out in defence of Pakistani players while Pawar launched an offensive against team owners for their omission.

While Pawar keeps the Congress on the backfoot with his deadly googlies, the state home minister has shown whose side he is on. On the day the Shah Rukh starrer My Name is Khan was released, he went to the INOX multiplex in Nariman Point, bought a Rs 350 ticket and watched the film for precisely 10 minutes before getting back to office. Not that he found the movie a bore; more likely he just wanted to prove a point.

SECULARISM, it seems, is something to wax eloquent about, but not practise. Taslima Nasrin's case proves just that. When she fled Bangladesh in 1994 after her book Lajja inflamed Muslim fanatics, she was hailed as a crusader against fundamentalism. The Marxist government led by the Communist Party of India ( Marxist) in Kolkata gave her abode, New Delhi assured her all protection. But now she has become a victim of competitive vote bank politics.

The darling of the secular chatteratti classes is now searching for a place to hide and platform to speak. Last week, she flew into the Capital from New York where she has been living since she was asked to leave India last August. Due to the many “ fatwas” from Islamic fundamentalists everywhere, the security agencies in Delhi have taken Taslima into protective custody but officials handling her are at a loss about her repeated demands to go to Kolkata.

But the same government which once gave her a home now doesn’t want her to step into its territory. She came to India to renew her residence permit, something she has to do every six months. Indeed, it was extended but on condition that it must not be used by her to reside in this country and that she leaves immediately thereafter!!! It’s as heartless as telling a poor villager: Here’s your ration card. You are entitled to keep it as long as you don’t draw your rations.

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