Ever since the BJP-led government came to power over four years ago, mediapersons have been fairly obsequious towards ministers and generally refrained from asking difficult questions at official press briefings. This was because word had got around that the BJP leadership and ministers did not take kindly to tough questioning and that this could have serious repercussions. However, there appears to be a perceptible change in recent days.
Mediapersons are no longer hesitant about questioning ministers. For instance, journalists openly told Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh at his recent official briefing that it had yielded no news. Similarly, railway minister Piyush Goyal was persistently questioned about spiralling fuel prices when his press conference was on a different subject. Mr Goyal was clearly not amused. More recently, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was taken aback when presspersons asked him if it was proper for him to go public about the ordinance banning triple talaq when the President had yet to sign the document. Mr Prasad was left speechless. The minister again looked flustered when a pressperson asked him if the BJP would follow up on its move to ban triple talaq and start giving tickets to Muslims, especially women. Mr Prasad brushed off this question on the ground that it was a political issue. These are admittedly baby steps but can also be seen as a reflection of the changing public mood. At the same time, mindful of the changing ground situation, senior ministers have started holding informal chats with small groups of journalists to get their feedback about issues like the Rafale jet deal.
India was understandably peeved when Nepal pulled out of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) joint-military exercise held in Pune earlier this month. However, it recovered subsequently, stating that this development would not impact relations between the two countries. According to government insiders, Kathmandu had explained that its Army Chief Purna Chandra Thapa could not make it because his presence was required back home for some religious rituals. Though this explanation seems far-fetched, Indian officialdom appeared to be reasonably satisfied with it. However, this does not take away from the fact that after saying no to India, Nepal decided to participate in a joint-military exercise — Sagarmatha Friendship-2 — with China. Kathmandu was apparently upset because it felt New Delhi had announced its participation in the military exercises without taking it into confidence. In addition, Kathmandu is convinced that the Modi government is undermining its Prime Minister K.P. Oli as it suspects him to be closer to China.
Shipping and surface transport minister Nitin Gadkari may not hail from Gujarat but he has the necessary genes of a businessman from that state. Owner of a successful group of companies in Nagpur (now managed by his family), Mr Gadkari is constantly alert to a possible business opportunity. This is exactly what happened when the construction on the multi-storey parking facility at the Transport Bhavan was completed recently. Realising there was a business opportunity here, he decided to offer the top floor to a restaurant and initiated the necessary paper work for this project. However, he faced stiff resistance from security agencies who red flagged it as a security risk because the top floor of the parking lot offers a panoramic view of the Parliament House. But Mr Gadkari refused to back off and insisted on going ahead with his brainchild. After prolonged discussions, the security agencies gave in but only when the ministry agreed to introduce several safeguards. Last heard, the tendering had been completed and the contract had been awarded to Sukh Sagar, a Mumbai-based chain of restaurants.
When Congress president Rahul Gandhi chose Kamal Nath to head the party’s state unit in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, it was believed he would work in tandem with senior leader Digvijay Singh. There was great bonhomie between the two leaders soon after Mr Nath took over his new post but relations between the two are learned to have soured. Reports from Bhopal say Mr Nath has now emerged from Mr Singh’s shadow and is increasingly depending on senior leader Suresh Pachauri for advice. A short video clip is being circulated in the state as an example of Mr Nath’s falling out with Mr Singh. The clip shows a reporter asking Mr Singh for his reaction to a survey showing that Mr Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia are favourite choices for the CM’s post. Mr Singh is seen brushing off the journalist, saying, “If I had money, I too could have emerged as the number one choice.”