Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, February 22, 2010

Second thought on Pak talks?
AS IN business, so in diplomacy, targets are set, but some being unrealistic, they are doomed from the start or aborted before takeoff. The foreign secretary- level talks between India and Pakistan scheduled this Thursday fall in this category. The overwhelming majority in the Cabinet Committee on Security( CCS) thought that the environment wasn’t conducive for talks and was against its resumption.

They finally bowed to the PMO’s wisdom. The government first said the talks would be open- ended but after the attack in Pune, the nuances are shifting. Foreign minister S. M. Krishna now says the talks will be exploratory in nature, which is like saying “ Okay we’ll meet, but we will only talk about talking”. Home minister Chidambaram says all pending issues related to 26/ 11 will be taken up by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao when she meets her Pakistani counterpart in New Delhi on Thursday. Defence minister A. K. Antony feels there is “ nothing wrong” in talking but adds that Pakistani terrorist camps are “ still active”. The Army Chief accuses Pakistan of sending militants across into Kashmir.

Across the border, Pak ministers who were, just a fortnight ago, gloating over making New Delhi “ blink first” are now accusing India of putting fresh hurdles in the way of talks. They may be right. For it appears to me that New Delhi would now do anything to wriggle out of the talks. It’s a lose- lose situation for the government.

If the talks fail it will lose face. If they are cancelled at the last minute, the government will have to answer the question: why were they announced at all? Parliament is in session and I can wage a bet that over at 11 Ashoka Road, the knives are being sharpened. Once again, the dialogue may be the victim.

Gadkari on lookout for a spinmeister
SINCE taking over as the BJP president nearly six weeks ago, Nitin Gadkari has done much plainspeaking to antagonise some of its well- entrenched sections and said and done a lot to re- energise the party. With his deep roots in the RSS, there is general acknowledgement that there is none better qualified than him to lead the BJP, but among his current priorities is one that is very un- RSS like.

Gadkari is on the lookout for a spin doctor to head the BJP media cell, which, according to him, should be handled by professionals as opposed to the army of amateur spin doctors who have so far managed to terribly harm its relations with the press.

Gadkari is looking for a person with connections and not necessarily convictions. His eyes fell on someone whom even his political opponents grudgingly acknowledge is the King of Spin. He has been a speechwriter to a former Prime Minister as also to a former deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister in- waiting. Unfortunately for Gadkari, he is so much in demand these days that even a king’s ransom may not suffice for acquiring his services. Apart from being advisor to a high profile tantrumprone Union minister from West Bengal, he also helps out with writing speeches for a Mumbai based industrialist who is one of India’s wealthiest businessmen and figures in the Top Ten in every “ richest men in the world” survey.
As such, the spin doctor's calendar is full and Gadkari may have to look elsewhere for a match- winning spinner.

But over at Akbar Road, Congress leaders still do it the old- fashioned way, only the frequency has increased. In the last week alone, minister Ambika Soni, party spokespersons Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Manish Tewari held separate lavish parties for the media and more are in the offing.

These are all well- attended and the Congress gets the positive column inches that the government’s record doesn’t warrant. It only goes to prove that the Grand Old Party hasn’t discarded the old dictum that the way to a journalist’s moving fingers is through his stomach.

UNLESS it is a terror strike or an alarming law and order situation, it’s seldom that the Centre accedes to a request from a state government with such alacrity. Not the least when the request comes from a regional government headed by another party. But when Uttarakhand chief minister Ramesh Pokriyal wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting that he ask Union ministers not to visit Haridwar during the Maha Kumbh, the Centre acted promptly.
Cabinet secretary K. M. Chandrashekhar sent out letters to all Union ministers, attaching a copy of the CM’s letter. It stated that in view of the massive crowds of devotees expected during the Maha Snan that will go on till the middle of April, the state authorities would not be able to make special arrangements towards the protocol and security for Union Ministers and other VVIPs. In past years, such VVIP visits have led to unpleasant situations when the bigwigs complained of lack of adequate arrangements.

In other cases, withdrawal of police and security apparatus from the general public and their reassignment to VVIP duties have led to uncontrollable, even potentially dangerous situations.
Last heard, VVIP traffic to Haridwar is near negligible this year and consequently, there have been no untoward incidents so far.

It is to be hoped that the Union ministers have set an example and henceforth will take all directives from the Prime Minister’s Office equally seriously.

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