Politicians’ race to the Big Apple
THERE is something about New York that fires the traveller’s instinct among our MPs and once again it is that time of the year when our honourable representatives get the itch to travel to the Big Apple for the annual sojourn at the United Nations. The UN General Assembly meets only in September but the Prime Minister’s Office is already under immense political pressure from Congressmen as well as UPA allies to have their members included in the delegation. A bureaucrat friend said in jest that the lobbying was somewhat like what is witnessed on the eve of a cabinet session.
It’s easy to see why they are all clamouring to fly to New York. The Indian delegation normally consists of of 30 to 35 people. Sixteen of them are MPs who join the delegation in two batches of eight each and the rest are ministers and diplomats. For 45 days, all of them get to hole up in one of the best Manhattan hotels at the taxpayers’ expense. The stay is long enough for those afflicted with minor and major health problems to hold consultations with some of the best physicians in the world.
In normal circumstances, the selection is entirely the prerogative of the Prime Minister, but in a coalition like the UPA, as we have so often seen, the unusual is the rule rather than the exception.
So the final choice may not be Manmohan Singh’s alone. In a few days, we will know who have made the grade, but there is a record that will be hard to beat and it belongs to Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
He first attended the UNGA in 1977 as foreign minister in the Morarji Desai government when he famously addressed the assembly in Hindi.
Between 1988 and 1994, India had four prime ministers.
That all of them chose the BJP veteran is perhaps a measure of the deep admiration they shared for a political adversary.
Absentee ministers make cabinet meetings a no- show
CONSIDERING all the praise that heads of states and governments lavish upon him, it’s easy to see why Manmohan Singh needs only the slightest of excuses to take to the skies. “ When the prime minister of India speaks, the world listens” or something to that effect, US President Barack Obama said in Toronto last week.
How Manmohan would wish his own ministers also listen to him with similar earnestness. Kashmir was in flames even as Manmohan was rubbing shoulders with the G- 20 leaders, so it was understandable that as soon as he returned, he wanted to take stock. So he decided to hold an emergency meeting of his cabinet on his return to the Capital on Thursday, which coincided with the day of the weekly cabinet meeting.
Incidentally, during the Vajpayee days, the cabinet used to meet on Tuesdays but this was shifted in the UPA era to Thursday, following requests from some of the powerful alliance ministers from the South. They said they wished to be home with their families during the weekend.
A five- item agenda paper was drawn up for circulation among all cabinet ministers and, as is procedure, the deputy secretary in the cabinet secretariat in charge of cabinet meetings rang up the private secretaries of all ministers to find out the “ availability” of their masters.
Only 15 of the 33 full fledged ministers were available in the Capital.
Among the notable absentees were the three DMK ministers, who were enjoying a wellearned rest after the exertion at the highly publicised World Tamil Congress in Coimbatore.
Sharad Pawar was in Singapore getting himself embroiled in yet another cricket- related controversy, while other worthies cited prior commitments to excuse themselves from the emergency meeting.
Finally, the scheduled cabinet meeting was converted into a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, with the PM chairing the session attended by four of his senior- most colleagues — the ministers of defence, home, finance and external affairs.
STRANGE things are happening in Jharkhand.
Barely 10 years into its inception, the state has already seen six changes of chief ministers and two spells of president’s rule, including the current one which began on June 1 after chief minister Shibu Soren resigned on the eve of a trust vote.
The assembly is under suspended animation since then and with no party in a position to form the government, the BJP has demanded fresh elections. But the Centre seems in no mood to oblige. Usually, immediately after President’s rule is imposed, the Centre appoints advisers to assist the governor, but even this has not been done though a month has gone by.
Worse, governor MOH Farooq, who is the de facto chief minister, is hardly ever in Ranchi. The 73- year- old former Pondicherry chief minister is said to be not in the best of health and spends half his time in Chennai for medical treatment.
But the UPA’s proxy rule in Ranchi is unlikely to last long since it has to get the presidential proclamation ratified by Parliament, which is not an easy task since the UPA is woefully short of the majority in the Rajya Sabha.
Last heard, the Centre is contemplating withdrawal of president’s rule before Parliament’s monsoon session begins later this month.
For whose benefit and under what conditions remains to be seen.