Though the Congress is now in serious talks with the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party and the Shiv Sena for the formation of a coalition government in Maharashtra, there is no end to the discussion on what took so long for the grand old party to come on board. While various reasons are being cited by party insiders, they have been predictably hesitant to admit that the decision was delayed because Congress president Sonia Gandhi was trying to get in touch with Rahul Gandhi for his feedback but was unable to do so as he was travelling abroad. The Nehru-Gandhi scion may have stepped down as party chief but, from all accounts, Sonia Gandhi does not take any major decision without consulting him. Meanwhile, Congress leaders have been busy explaining that Sonia Gandhi could not have offered unilateral support to the Shiv Sena till she was formally approached by its chief Uddhav Thackeray. It was only after he spoke to her that she called a meeting of the Congress working committee to discuss this issue. The decision was also delayed when Mr Pawar informed Sonia Gandhi on the phone that, contrary to reports, the NCP had not given its letter of support to the Shiv Sena ahead of its meeting with the governor. Maharashtra Congress leaders, who were in favour of aligning with the Shiv Sena, got an earful from Sonia Gandhi as they had cited Mr Pawar's consent to strengthen their argument.
A video, showing how Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually ignored Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh on his arrival in the state for the inaugural ceremony of the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor, has gone viral. People in Punjab are upset that when Mr Modi landed, he barely acknowledged the chief minister with a cursory namaste and then went on to shake hands with the others who had lined up to welcome him. They maintain that this was an open insult to a democratically elected chief minister and that Mr Singh should have made a noise about it. While pointing to how Mr Modi had ignored the Punjab chief minister, people in Punjab are quick to draw attention to the courtesies extended to former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the inaugural ceremony of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor despite the ongoing cold war between New Delhi and Islamabad. In fact, Sidhu's rousing speech on the occasion has made him a hero in Punjab as the Sikh community is convinced that the Pakistan government had provided access to its revered shrine only after the Punjab MLA put in a word with his former cricketing buddy Imran Khan.
The manner in which the Modi government is proceeding with its plans for a new Parliament building and development/redevelopment of New Delhi’s Central Vista — the four-kilometre stretch from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate — has caught the attention of the newly-constituted parliamentary standing committee on urban development. The panel’s members, which includes Digvijaya Singh and Kumar Ketkar, are set to seek clarification on a host of issues relating to this massive and a highly expensive project at its next meeting. Members have especially taken note of the fact that the details of the works have been kept under wraps and that there has been no effort to get inputs from members of the public, architects, designers and urban planners. Urban development minister Hardeep Puri has gone on record to say that a number of bhavans, currently housing government offices will be demolished but no one knows which buildings will be knocked down. Since there is no clarity in this regard, it is being speculated that the National Archives and National Museum, both heritage buildings on Janpath, are among those which have been earmarked for demolition. In fact, former culture secretary Raghavendra Singh, who has been appointed CEO of development of museums and cultural spaces, is already in talks with experts about moving the National Museum to an alternative site.
The construction of a new Parliament building may take time but it appears the staff is already being prepared to work in a new “five-star” style environment. To begin with, railway employees, who have been deputed to man the Parliament House canteens, were recently sent to the Maurya Sheraton for special training on, among other things, how to lay a table and serve a meal. The waiters came back impressed with the training and the hotel’s infrastructure but were not sure if it will be possible to put their newly-acquired skills into practice. After all, there is little comparison between a five-star hotel and the Parliament House canteens which are cramped and overcrowded especially when the session is on. This is not the first time that an effort has been made to upgrade the canteens, improve the service and smarten up the waiters with new uniforms but to little avail.