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Anurag Thakur: Voice Of Government
Being among the younger—and fitter
31 Mar, 2023
Anurag Thakur (Illustrations: Saurabh Singh)
Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur has emerged as the government’s main spokesperson, issuing sound bites and interacting with the media on a range of issues, from Cabinet decisions to political matters. His easy manner with the media as well as personal acquaintance with most of the scribes reporting on politics helps as he puts across the government’s message. Though his other portfolio of sports and youth affairs does not involve as much direct interaction since sports associations are autonomous, Thakur has the experience of being a sport administrator. The G20 events in India include several programmes that connect with students and youth and recently the minister completed a set of engagements involving more than 10,000 students. Being among the younger—and fitter—set of politicians is an advantage, too, as can be seen in the manner in which Thakur rushes from one engagement to another, literally sprinting to make it to BJP’s morning floor strategy discussions that take place in Parliament House when the two Houses are in session.
Dalai Lama Strikes
The reincarnation of high lamas in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is a prickly issue for the Chinese. For several years, China has been trying to control the Buddhist system of reincarnation by picking its own candidates and making the authentication of reincarnate lamas by the government mandatory. The most famous case is that of the Panchen Lama, wherein the one picked by the Dalai Lama vanished mysteriously and the one anointed by China has government support. China is laying the groundwork, many believe, of making a choice for Dalai Lama after the current one. This is what makes the recent news of the Dalai Lama picking an eight-year-old Mongolian boy as the new Jebtsundamba Khutuktu so interesting. Pictures of the boy, who had travelled with a large group of Mongolians, being anointed in Dharamsala recently emerged online. The title of Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, the highest Gelug lineage lama among the Mongols, has been vacant since the ninth incumbent died in 2012. When the Dalai Lama last visited Mongolia in 2016 and announced that a new incarnation had been born and that a search to find him was underway, China had reacted angrily and threatened Ulaanbaatar with diplomatic repercussions. It will be interesting now to see how Beijing reacts to this latest news. It may have control over Buddhism within its borders, but will it also be able to exert control on and influence religious processes outside it? Much to Beijing’s chagrin, the Dalai Lama remains a revered figure for Buddhists all over the world and the pontiff enjoys a close and warm relationship with India.
The Navratras that concluded this week are a time of fasting and piety but also when community meals are organised in neighbourhoods and temples. The queues are long as entire bastis, including the more tony residents, turn up for the afternoon meals of puri, alu sabzi and sweet halwa. The fare can be more sophisticated with the vegetables getting more garnish and the sweets more varied. It’s not that saving the cost of a meal is the only consideration although that does weigh on many migrant families. But the free meals are more an act of generosity and engender a community sentiment. For a short time, all the people queuing up are equal and none can jump the line. The sight of such bhandaras for Navratras and Shivratris is common enough; but the social significance can be missed or underestimated. The participative element is a strong motivator and the meals served are not so commonly made in most homes. There is a lip-smacking element to the cooking and the enthusiasm of young and old, with some carrying plates back to people at home who cannot make it to the foodcarts, is hard to miss. The shared community feeling was very much in evidence during the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic when food packets were arranged by individuals, welfare associations and voluntary organisations in cities as well as rural areas. Religious and cultural events and donations by individuals keep this tradition alive, the social benefits of which are often not fully appreciated. The sense of sharing brings to mind football club Liverpool’s anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (originally composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein of The Sound of Music fame).
BJP’s Delhi Fix
BJP’s Delhi unit has been in a state of flux for some time. There has been a succession of state presidents but the party has remained organisationally disjointed, despite its wins in municipal polls (a trend that snapped recently) and sweeps in the 2014 and 2019 General Election. Party seniors have not seen eye-to-eye and state chiefs have had their task cut out in getting the cadre working. All this has handicapped BJP’s ability to confront an agile opponent like AAP led by the charismatic Arvind Kejriwal. In a recent announcement, BJP has appointed Virendra Sachdeva, an old and low-profile Delhi hand, as its state chief. Sachdeva got the nod for fashioning strategies that delivered better than expected results in the municipal polls, even though AAP gained a majority, and managing the manoeuvres during the protracted showdown over the election of the mayor and the standing committee. Sachdeva has the added advantage of knowing most of the journalists reporting on city politics as well as the national scene. He was previously associated with the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini run by BJP leader Vinay Sahasrabuddhe which focuses on training and research for political workers and social activists. A quiet networker, Sachdeva might be the right pick for the challenging times ahead when BJP will face a General Election even as the political heat rises over arrests of AAP leaders on corruption charges which the Delhi party has described as political vendetta.
Amid the rising animosity between BJP and Congress which peaked with Rahul Gandhi’s conviction and disqualification from Lok Sabha, the observations of Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor on the merits of appointing technocrats to Cabinet posts is a complete outlier. The high-profile MP’s comments commending Prime Minister Narendra Modi for appointing former officials like External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, and Power Minister RK Singh have perhaps not caught the attention of the Congress bosses who are engrossed in sorting out the crisis created by the Surat court order. Tharoor said that appointing technocrats was a hallmark of Modi’s functioning and someone like Jaishankar, who was made minister soon after leaving the foreign service, might have been able to hit the ground running and taken less time in grappling with issues than a politician not familiar with the functioning of the Ministry of External Affairs. Tharoor has often enough clashed with BJP, particularly over issues like the definition of Hindutva. So, his non-partisan comments certainly do not match the usual commentary of Congress leaders who take a cue from the confrontationist rhetoric of the party brass as Congress uses every forum to attack BJP and Modi.
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