Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Snippets / Mail Today, May 17, 2010

Ministers’ scramble for the RS
WITH THE Election Commission announcing June 11 as the date for elections to fill 57 Rajya Sabha seats, time is running out for some high profile ministers who may start to feel the employment pinch. Anand Sharma’s term in the Rajya Sabha has already ended and those of Ambika Soni and Jairam Ramesh are ending by July.

Accommodating three Union ministers is a huge task for the Congress. Last week, when a senior Union minister from Tamil Nadu met Sonia Gandhi, she gave a clear hint that only loyal workers will be sent to the Rajya Sabha." You can suggest, and I welcome it, but please do not insist that A, B or C should be accommodated or X, Y and Z should be kept out" was Sonia’s blunt reply to the minister.

It’s almost certain that Soni will get one of the two seats that are up for grabs in Punjab but ensuring seats for Jairam and Anand is going be to a tough task for the Congress leadership. The two are as different as chalk and cheese. Jairam talks and talks and talks, while Anand maintains a low profile while quietly going about his job. In the latter's case, the Congress is now said to be exploring options in Rajasthan since in Haryana, which was also looked at as an option, Congress MLAs don’t seem to be very eager. It is after a long time that state legislators are openly defying the authority of the high command to make known their preferences for the Rajya Sabha.

These are the first signs that the AICC is losing its grip over the state units. The Andhra Congress is dead set against renominating Jairam and one of the reasons is said to be that he showed disrespect by not turning up for the funeral of the late chief minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy. All Reddy MLAs, it is being said, will skip the voting on June 11.

Chief minister K. Rosaiah, who is just about settling in office after months of initial turmoil may find himself running into turbulence again.

Who is afraid of the big bad press conference?
SO MANMOHAN Singh has finally decided to go public, even if it means getting damned. Next Monday, the Prime Minister will address what is only his second formal press conference is six years. Normally, the news would have followed his press conference, but the very fact that the announcement of the event itself was considered breaking news by TV channels says a lot about our democracy. We elect our politicians to work for us and they cannot claim to be private citizens and ask to be left alone, however unpopular a government may be.
And Manmohan is not an unpopular ruler like, say, George W. Bush. Yet, even as his ratings plummeted after Iraq, Bush did not avoid the press and kept his monthly date with the media. Contrast this with our prime ministers. All of them, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was among the most popular prime ministers, kept the press at arm’s length. Ironically, it was Indira Gandhi whose contempt for the press was legendary, who regularly met the press.

Like millions of Indians, the media too rejoiced when she was voted out in the 1977 elections and after her triumphant return in 1980, she was widely expected to shun the press. But she chose to settle scores not by avoiding the press, but by inviting and then humiliating them. I had a taste of this once when I once accompanied Suman Dubey, then India Today managing editor and Sumit Mitra, Special Correspondent to attend one of her news conferences. Mitra asked her: " Madam, how do you assess the performance of your ( Congress) general secretaries?" She assumed that the question was specifically about Rajiv Gandhi who had just completed a year as a party GenSec.

You could see the rage in her eyes as she ordered us out of the hall. Manmohan is too gentle a soul to act in a similar fashion. But considering the smoke shrouding several controversial decisions of his government, the Prime Minister should seize the opportunity and try to clear the air.
THERE was a time when the only portraits hung in ministerial chambers in Lutyens’ Delhi were those of the President and the Prime Minister. But times have changed and where once a minister served in the cabinet at the pleasure of the prime minister, in today's coalition set up, it is no more the PM's prerogative to pick his cabinet colleagues. They are imposed on the prime minister chosen by regional chieftains whose support is necessary to prop up the government. The changed power equations are reflected on the walls of ministerial rooms. The rooms of DMK ministers have photographs of poet saint Thiruvalluvar and Karunanidhi. In the office room of S. S. Palanimanickam, there is a huge photo of Murasoli Maran with the words Ennude Gurunathan ( My Guru) inscribed and I am told that on entering his office, the minister actually stands in front of the portrait with folded hands for two minutes before taking his seat. The whole of Bengal may be celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of the state's most famous son Rabindranath Tagore, but for the Trinamool Congress ministers, the presiding deity is Didi. G. K. Vasan has one huge picture of Sonia Gandhi and one of his late father, G. K. Moopanar. Jairam Ramesh’s theme is his portfolio, Environment, so there are lots of pictures of animals, mountains — and even a volcano.

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