Columns | Whisperer
It seems with a new Parliament building in the offing, the Central Hall bonhomie will soon be a thing of the past
30 Jul, 2021
(Illustrations: Saurabh Singh)
As a matter of habit, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee meets Members of Parliament in the Central Hall every Monsoon Session. After all, she was an elected Lok Sabha member for many years. This year, too, would be no different, or so she thought before Covid-19 put a spanner in her attempt to visit the Central Hall, which remains closed due to the pandemic. Although the Lok Sabha speaker invited her to drop into his chamber, she decided against it since her objective of bonding with MPs and journalists was defeated. It seems with a new Parliament building in the offing, the Central Hall bonhomie will soon be a thing of the past. But for some, old habits die hard.
She Shawl Overcome?
When Mamata Banerjee met Narendra Modi on July 27th, apart from the customary sweets and flowers, she gifted him an elegant uttariya shawl from Bengal, which the prime minister was quick to don for a photo-op. Though the meeting went smoothly, there is no indication yet to suggest whether Modi is ready to hold Banerjee’s Bhawanipore byelection on time to avoid a constitutional crisis. Banerjee contested the West Bengal Assembly election this year from Nandigram constituency instead of her home turf Bhawanipore, and lost to BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari. As she has been sworn in as chief minister for a third consecutive term, she has to be an elected member of the state Assembly to hold her post. And she has to do it within six months of her appointment.
Prize For Loyalty
Trinamool Congress has nominated retired IAS officer Jawhar Sircar as the party’s Rajya Sabha candidate. Sircar and Prime Minister Modi shared a cordial relationship in the past. When he was the Prasar Bharati CEO before the 2014 General Election, Doordarshan carried an interview with Rahul Gandhi. To balance the equation then, Sircar had asked for an interview with Modi as well. After Modi came to power, in the first book release at the prime minister’s residence, Sircar was invited where Modi met him for the first time. But then a major rift started between Sircar and the Prasar Bharati chairman. So, Sircar retired early and went to Kolkata from where he started writing against Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Now, Mamata Banerjee seems to have rewarded him for his loyalty. He may even be made Trinamool’s national spokesman.
In the recent visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Tibet, where he stayed for two days, apart from capital Lhasa, he even visited the Chinese border of Arunachal Pradesh. It did not stir any reaction from India. Instead, Prime Minister Modi sent birthday wishes to the Dalai Lama recently as India maintained a consistent policy on Tibet. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, nevertheless, is keeping a close watch on the matter, particularly when China is claiming a part of Bhutan that is accessible through Arunachal Pradesh.
Expanding the House?
With a new Parliament being constructed, there are enough straws in the wind to suggest a thousand-plus seat strength of the Lok Sabha from the current 543 seats by 2024. Though there is no word yet from the Delimitation Commission on the increase, there is speculation whether the Government is working silently on the project and if the 2021 Census will form its backbone.
As BS Yediyurappa makes way for Basavaraj Bommai as the new Karnataka chief minister, the move is being hailed as nothing short of a coup by none other than Prime Minister Modi. Instead of relying on party functionaries, Modi is believed to have taken into confidence a close aide of Yediyurappa whom he called on July 16th and disclosed that if the incumbent chief minister did not step down now, when he is 78, he would be too old to contest the next Assembly polls in 2023 and it would have a negative impact if he were removed then. Modi apparently made it clear that he nursed no grudge against Yediyurappa and was thankful for his all-round contribution.
Before going overseas in the first week of August, Congress President Sonia Gandhi is bent on fixing the organisational crisis in the party. Along with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, she has chosen Congress leader Kamal Nath for the job, and the four will be working closely to tie up loose ends in Punjab, Rajasthan and even West Bengal. It is learnt that political strategist Prashant Kishor, too, is actively coordinating with this group. It has also fuelled gossip that Kishor may be joining Congress sometime soon.
As Narendra Modi gears up for his UN General Assembly visit in the third week of September, there is talk that he may go to Washington too. Alongside, a global conference is being planned. After Joe Biden came to power as US president, this will be the first meeting with the Indian prime minister. It seems Biden is now taking an aggressive stand on China, especially with regard to technology. Also, the withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan will sharpen the focus on China. Besides, India and the US are strategic partners.
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