By Nora Chopra
Where is the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh? Has anyone heard from him of late? With concern at its highest over the falling image and failing performance of the Manmohan Singh government, Sonia Gandhi has taken charge of steering the government herself. The UPA chairperson has become proactive and this was visible on three very recent occasions. First time, when she came forward to address the media soon after her son Rahul’s dismal performance in the UP polls. Second, when she personally took the initiative to suspend the eight pro-Telengana MPs, who stalled the house on the Rahul issue. And the very recent was her role in getting the political science books that carried the controversial cartoons scrapped. Sonia is said to be extremely concerned over the state of affairs in the government and is planning drastic changes in view of 2014 elections.
KAPIL SIBAL’S DAYS SEEM NUMBERED
Kapil Sibal is in serious trouble. The Congress President Sonia Gandhi is just livid with him in the wake of the cartoon issue. He is sure to be divested of the HRD portfolio in the forthcoming reshuffle possibly sometime in July. Resentment has been brewing within the Congress against the HRD for the continuous faux pass in the education system. He has been under fire right from the initial days of UPA-II government and would have been stripped off the HRD portfolio in the last reshuffle itself, after the Congress leaders like Oscar Fernandes and Keshav Rao stalled his Education Tribunal Bill. But Sibal made it a prestige issue and refused to take on telecom if HRD was not given to him. Various complaints have also been lodged over various appointments in the HRD ministry with the party high command. His recent goof ups have been the inclusion of the general knowledge book by Dhiren and Doshi, where Anna Hazare has been described as the second Gandhi. This was closely followed by the Ambedkar cartoon episode, resulting in the intervention of no less than Sonia Gandhi, who personally ordered Sibal to withdraw the political science book. There is a thinking in the higher echelons of the Congress that that it was the carelessness of the HRD minister that led to such a pass. Sonia was visibly upset and was seen shouting at both Pawan Bansal and Sibal, ordering them in full view of the media and the political spectrum in Lok Sabha to scrap the book. She made Pranab Mukherjee to stand up and assure the House. So now Sibal’s and Pawan Bansal’s days are said to be numbered.
TEJINDER KHANNA TO BE DENIED EXTENSION
The lieutenant governor ofDelhi, Tejinder Khanna, who is on his way out, is lobbying hard for an extension. But as resentment is high against him with Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit opposing his extension, he is unlikely to get it. The names making round as his successor are of Naveen Chawla, KK Paul, Arun Bhagat, and of former cabinet secretary KM Chandra Shekhar. So worried is Khanna over the possibility of being denied the extension that he has stopped meeting people. If someone calls on him, he is told to meet his OSD.
AP SINGH OR BK GUPTA FOR NHRC TOP POST
As PC Sharma retires as chairman of National Human Rights Commission on June 27, once he turns 70, after serving the commission for eight years, the race for the post of his successor has begun. If the buzz is to be believed, the toss is between the current CBI Director AP Singh and the Police Commissioner BK Gupta. Both of these contenders are due to retire some time in 2012. While Sharma was rewarded for his services to the BJP by the Vajpayee government, Singh and Gupta have been loyal to their UPA masters. The Government is now toying with the idea of rewarding them: BK Gupta for his role in cash for votes scam and Singh for his role in the 2G spectrum, wherein Chidambaram has been accused by the opposition for his alleged involvement in it. However, the CBI has given him the clean chit.
WHO’S AFRAID OF MANI SHANKAR AIYAR?
Poor Mani Shankar Aiyar! Pushed to the sidelines in the party, he is running from pillar to post to fulfill the former prime minister, late Rajiv Gandhi’s dream and vision on Panchayati Raj. He is desperately lobbying with the government for a Commission on Panchayati Raj. Some time ago, he landed up at the Rural Development Minister Jairam Ranesh’s office and gave him his proposals. Jairam quietly told him that he has knocked on the wrong door and Panchayati Raj was clearly not in his jurisdiction. Ramesh advised Mani to approach Kishore Chandra Deo, as Panchayati Raj falls under the latter’s purview. Mani came out of Ramesh’s office and drove straight to KC Deo’s, only to be packed off to Montek Singh Ahluwalia. After half an hour, Jairam Ramesh got a call from Montek Singh who demanded from Jairam what harm has he done to the rural development minister that he sent Mani to him? In fact, Ramesh has been overheard narrating the incident adding more spicy details to it.
BENGAL PINES FOR DADA AS PRESIDENT
WillWest Bengalwin the toss or not this time is a million dollar question! The political leadership ofWest Bengal, cutting across party lines barring the Trinamool Congress, is keeping its fingers crossed. Many inBengalare of the opinion that the state is jinxed. Jyoti Basu was tipped to become the Prime Minister, but failed because his party rejected it. And now, if Sonia and Congress reject Pranab Babu, he may not be the President after all, despite all round support shown to him. BarringBengal, there have been Presidents and Prime Ministers from nearly all major states, especially UP, which has produced seven Prime Ministers and one President Zakir Hussain. Bihar has seen Rajendra Prasad become the President, while three presidents and one prime minister have come from Andhra Pradesh — that is Narasimha Rao for PM and S Radhakrishnan, VV Giri and Sanjeeva Reddy for presidents. In fact,Maharashtratoo is not far behind with Hidayatullah and Pratibha Patil as presidents. Patil, as it turns out, is unique in representing both Rajasthan andMaharashtra. R Venkatraman and Abdul Kalam Azad have represented Tamil Nadu, while KR Narayanan has put Kerala on the presidential map. Giani Zail Singh and Manmohan Singh have done Punjab proud, Faqruddin Ali Ahmad fromAssamand Shankar Dayal Sharma and from Madhya Pradesh have given nods to their respective states. Only Karnataka has had no one so far andBengalmissed the bus once. Will it again miss the bus again or will Pranab Da become the next Rashtrapati?
MUSLIM CANDIDATURE FOR PRESIDENCY HEATS UP
As the race for Rashtrapati Bhawan continues, Hamid Ansari has clearly been ruled out. Sonia Gandhi is not keen to have any Muslim candidate from outside the Congress either for President or Vice President, as she is apprehensive that the credit for that would go to Mulayam Singh Yadav. Even Mulayam’s candidate, SY Qureishi for VP, has been ruled out. It has been conveyed to Mulayam that there is no dearth of Muslims in the Congress and if the Congress high command zeroes in on a Muslim, it would be from within the Congress. Sonia’s Man Friday Ahmad Patel has sounded both Saifuddin Soz and Rehman Khan to be ready for the post of Vice President if need be. Rehman Khan has already started lobbying with Muslim organisations. Last week, Rehman Khan convened a meeting of various Muslim organisations, including the Muslim Personal Law Board.
AND THE NEXT VICE PRESIDENT IS?
Even though the picture is still not clear on who would be our next President, hectic lobbying is on for the post of Vice President. Farooq Abdullah, who is convalescing in AIIMS after a heart attack, has been calling up journalists and political colleagues to float his name. Najma Heptullah, wherever and whenever she meets someone, she reminds them of her 18 years as Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha. Sushil Kumar Shinde has been inviting his closeMaharashtrajournalists over drinks and requesting them to help him out by conveying his name to the party high command and writing about it in their respective newspapers. Meira Kumar, a strong contender for the post of President, is willing to settle even for Vice President. She is so desperate that she has started an ad campaign on Lok Sabha TV called ‘Hamari Speaker’, in which guests face questions on the lady. Kumar has also found a supporter in PA Sangma, who has been demanding a Dalit or tribal President for long. After Sangma made the demand, Meira Kumar called the Lok Sabha TV staff and asked them to do an interview with Sangma. Meanwhile, after SY Qureishi’s name was rejected, Mulayam is supposed to have proposed the name of Ram Naresh Yadav for the Vice President. Though he is a socialist, Yadav is in the Congress these days. He is serving as the Governor of Madhya Pradesh. If made a VP, he would be the first OBC fromNorth Indiato hold that post.
MASS EXODUS FROM CONGRESS LIKELY BEFORE 2014
There is unrest in the Congress. More than half a dozen Congress MPs from Uttar Pradesh are extremely unhappy with the state of affairs in their party. These MPs, which include Sanjay Singh, Harshwardhan Singh, Jagdambika Pal, PL Punia, Praveen Aron and Kamal Kishore, have been holding parleys to share their concern. The restlessness amongst these MPs is the result of the thinking that they have no future in the Congress in UP. The Congress they think has no scope of coming to power in the near future in UP. They also see no hope of getting anything in the UPA either. These leaders are upset over the fact that those MPs, who have no influence in their respective areas or neither are caste leaders, are ministers in the UPA. All these leaders, except for Kamal Kishore, have been in some way closely associated with Mulayam Singh Yadav. Though a closely guarded secret, they are in touch with Mulayam Singh. They are busy mobilising support and are planning to quit the Congress sometime before 2014. Till then, they want to mount pressure on the Congress leadership to get some benefits. Besides these leaders, Raj Babbar and Salim Shervani are also toying with the idea of returning to the SP. (IPA)