Nirmala Sitharaman’s appointment as finance minister received wall-to-wall coverage in the media. This was to be expected as she is the second woman to hold this all-important portfolio, no mean achievement. However, this love fest between Ms Sitharaman and the press has turned sour after her latest directive restricting the entry of PIB accredited journalists to the finance ministry. The ministry has been at pains to explain that there is no ban and that PIB card holders can enter the ministry provided they have a prior appointment. But this has not cut any ice with the press corps which has protested the move on the ground that it prevents beat journalists from news gathering. Besides, there is a lurking fear that it is only a matter of time before other ministers also issue similar orders. According to the buzz in the capital, Ms Sitharaman’s move has not gone down well even with her predecessor and mentor Arun Jaitley who was known for his easy accessibility to the media before he took ill.
It is learned that Mr Jaitley is also unhappy with the proposal to raise duties on newsprint and levy higher taxes on the super rich. Ms Sitharaman’s diktat on the media is ironical as the BJP never fails to mention how its leaders suffered at the hands of the Congress during Emergency when Indira Gandhi cracked down on the press and her political opponents and how it is committed to the freedom of press. There is obviously a mismatch between words and action.
Like father, like daughter. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP Supriya Sule is clearly following in her father, Sharad Pawar’s footsteps. Taking a cue from the veteran leader, who is known to forge friendships across the political divide, Ms Sule is also doing the same but in her inimitable style. The young NCP leader has emerged as some kind of a ringmaster of the younger MPs irrespective of their political affiliation. As a senior, now that she has been in Parliament since 2006, Ms Sule loses no time in taking first-timers under her charge. They are often spotted sitting together in a large group in the Central Hall of Parliament during the session, either enjoying a good gossip session or a serious discussion on the day’s developments. Not just that, Ms Sule also plies them with special healthy namkeen and organises regular lunch meetings at the newest restaurant in Delhi. Former finance minister Mr Jaitley jocularly referred to them as the “Khan Market lunch gang” and would often enquire about the latest eating place they had visited. The composition of this group has obviously changed over the years as many Congress members have failed to return to Parliament but Ms Sule has gone from strength to strength.
Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Bhartruhari Mahtab is said to have upset his leader and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik when he recently toed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) line in the Lok Sabha by calling upon the Modi government for an inquiry into the death of Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Conveying his displeasure to his parliamentary party leaders, Mr Patnaik wondered why this matter had been raised when there were more pressing issues concerning the state which needed to be highlighted. Mr Mahtab’s statement predictably delighted the BJP benches as Mookerjee’s custody death in Srinagar is an emotive issue with the party which has always blamed Jawaharlal Nehru for refusing to inquire into this mysterious development. Mr Mahtab’s support to the BJP cause led to considerable speculation in political circles about the BJD leader’s reasons for this intervention. Mr Mahtab, who was leader of the BJD parliamentary party in Lok Sabha, has been replaced by his colleague Pinaki Mishra this time. Questions are being asked if this change prompted Mr Mahtab to make this unusual statement.
Given that ubernationalism is the flavour of the season, terms like deshbhakti and patriotism were constantly invoked during the cricket World Cup tournament. With the ruling political class stoking passions, over-zealous patriots were quick to pounce and troll anyone who dared to critically analyse the Indian team’s performance, immediately dubbing them “anti-national”. Some went to the extent of crediting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s massive victory in the recent Lok Sabha election to the Indian team’s initial winning spree. A television channel even ran a prime time programme before the Indian team lost to New Zealand in the semifinal, essentially declaring triumphantly that Mr Modi would ensure India’s victory in the final. Going by the prevailing public mood, there was a serious suggestion in the government that Mr Modi should fly to London to watch the final at Lords so that he is at hand to personally congratulate the Indian team when it lifts the World Cup. Sadly, all these plans and proposals fell by the wayside when India failed to qualify for the final. In the process, the Prime Minister also lost a good photo-op.
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist...