Anita Katyal: Nitin Gadkari has a new role

Columnist  | Anita Katyal

Opinion, Columnists

The Union minister is suddenly being seen and heard more often these days, signalling the end of his self-isolation

Nitin Gadkari

The Modi government has been in damage control mode ever since the Arab world expressed its displeasure over growing Islamophobia in India as well as its treatment of minorities. While external affairs minister S. Jaishankar has been reaching out to the Middle East leaders to set the record straight, back home the task of defending the government has been entrusted to minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. For the past few weeks, Mr Naqvi has been busy writing blogs and sending out Press statements on a regular basis debunking the charge that minorities in India are being treated poorly. While maintaining that India is a “heaven” for minorities and that they are flourishing here, Mr Naqvi cites facts and figures to establish how the Modi government has worked to improve the conditions of Muslims. The only problem is that the minister often fudges facts to take credit for the work done by previous governments.

Did Congress botch fare pay?

When Congress president Sonia Gandhi declared that her party will pick up the tab for the rail fare of stranded migrants asked to shell out for their train journey back home, the move was expected to pay the party rich political dividend. The decision did embarrass the Modi government, which quickly changed its stance, saying the Centre will bear 85 per cent of the cost while the remaining amount will have to be forked out by respective state governments. However, there are serious doubts if the Congress masterstroke succeeded in generating any long-term goodwill for the party. That’s because the Congress did not make any direct cash transfers to individual travellers. Instead it handed over cheques to chief ministers as the party’s contribution towards the 15 per cent cost being borne by state governments as their share of the fare of migrants travelling on the special trains being run for them. Since there has been no direct interface between a Congress worker and the stranded migrant, Sonia Gandhi’s offer could well turn out to be nothing more than a day’s headline.

Really going local?

Once the government made it mandatory to wear masks to guard against the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi set an example by ensuring that he wore one each time he was shown on television addressing his Cabinet colleagues or chief ministers. However, the masks gradually gave way to handspun khadi stoles (which sometimes barely cover his face) in different colours and patterns, which have been accessed from weavers across the country. This is in sync with the Prime Minister’s new mantra to “go local”, promote handloom and khadi and support weavers. This must have pleased the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has always advocated the use of Indian goods. However, social media was not taken in by the PM’s plea to “go local”. Twitterati was quick to point out that he was seen using a Mont Blanc pen and has also been spotted wearing Maybach sunglasses and a Modavo watch.

Neta's wardrobe reboot

There is an interesting story doing the rounds in Delhi about a Bhojpuri actor-turned-politician from the Bharatiya Janata Party. Apparently, the abhineta-neta got himself a new wardrobe from a well-known tailoring shop in South Delhi but has been locked in a battle over the payment for his new set of clothes. The neta, it is said, is angling for a rebate and has suggested that the shop display his photographs modelling the tailoring unit’s clothes. This, according to the neta, would boost the unit’s business since he is a well-known face and also a brand name. However, the shop owner is reluctant to accept this offer.

Gadkari back in action

After being marginalised for the past several months now, transport minister Nitin Gadkari appears to be back in favour. The Union minister is suddenly being seen and heard more often these days, signalling the end of his self-isolation. Mr Gadkari has been busy giving interviews to television channels and newspapers and has also convened a series of meetings with transporters, retailers and other such groups to defend the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and reassure everyone that the Modi government has plans on getting the economy moving once again. It is surmised that the government has decided to field Mr Gadkari because he also heads the ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises and understands the needs of this beleaguered sector. But that’s not all. He will also serve as a convenient fall guy in case the MSME sector fails to revive despite the economic package offered to it. Gadkari’s return to the political centrestage stands out in sharp contrast to the manner in which he was quietly sidelined last year after he made a couple of statements taking on the Prime Minister and home minister Amit Shah.