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Of defensive Sitharaman & sidelined neta

The writer is a Delhi-based journalist.
Published : Oct 8, 2017, 12:41 am IST
Updated : Oct 8, 2017, 12:42 am IST

Sitharaman has grown in stature after she was elevated to Cabinet rank and moved from the commerce ministry to the high-profile defence ministry.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman (Photo: PTI)
 Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman (Photo: PTI)

Although a relative newcomer in politics, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman made the cut as a minister in the Narendra Modi government primarily because of her successful stint as a Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Ms Sitharaman, along with Meenakshi Lekhi and Smriti Irani, was at her aggressive best while demolishing the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. Predictably, she was constrained from donning the party spokesperson’s hat after she became a minister except when she was specially called to the BJP headquarters to speak on a specific subject. Ms Sitharaman has grown in stature after she was elevated to Cabinet rank and moved from the commerce ministry to the high-profile defence ministry.

It was, therefore, baffling to see Ms Sitharaman participate in a television debate last week on the ongoing battle between the RSS and the ruling Left Front in Kerala. Not only was the defence minister shouted down by the other panelists, what made it worse was that she was pitted against second-rung spokespersons from the Opposition. At one point, questions were even raised about the participation of a minister in the debate, to which a defensive Sitharaman maintained that she was there as a political worker of her party. Obviously, Ms Sitharaman is unable to decide which role she wants to play: minister or party spokesperson.

Even at the best of times, there is a scramble for rooms among the office bearers in the Congress headquarters on Akbar Road. The senior general secretaries are usually allotted a room in the front portion of the main building while the others have to do with space at the rear. However, the space crunch has got much worse after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi decided that general secretaries were overburdened with the charge of too many states and that each office bearer should look after one state or department. The result is that there is no room for the growing tribe of office bearers, necessitating the sharing of office space. So one finds that veteran leader Kamal Nath had to accommodate new Rahul Gandhi-appointee Avinash Pande in his room while Ambika Soni and Karan Singh now have to make space for their senior colleagues Ashok Gehlot and Sushil Kumar Shinde. Returning to the party fold after a gap, senior leader Kishore Chandra Deo was horrified to find that he would have to share a room with a far junior functionary Asha Kumari. Similarly, party general secretary B.K. Hariprasad now has R.P.N. Singh, another Rahul Gandhi favourite, as his office mate.

With most offices converted into virtual common rooms, their occupants usually stay away from the party office, preferring instead to work from the privacy of their homes. This appears to be best as there have been occasions when the occupants have landed up at the same time. R.P.N. Singh, who likes holding forth in his new office, had to hurriedly vacate the place on several occasions when Mr Hariprasad arrived for some pre-scheduled meetings.

It’s little over six months since he took charge but Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat is already feeling the heat. There is all-round disenchantment with his performance as people in the hill state tend to compare him with the more high-profile Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath.

Although there is no move to replace Mr Rawat, his detractors and other chief ministerial hopefuls believe they stand a chance. Parliamentary affairs minister Prakash Pant, who was a strong contender for the top post, has become very active of late.

Mr Pant has been making innumerable trips to the capital on the pretext of an official meeting or a discussion on a pending project. The real purpose is to fraternise with BJP bosses.

Well aware of Mr Pant’s gameplan, Mr Rawat is taking no chances. Each time Mr Pant visits Delhi, the beleaguered chief minister follows a few days later. It is to be seen how long this cat and mouse game lasts.

It is well known that Makhan Lal Fotedar, a one-time confidante of former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, who died recently, did not have the same equation with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Although he was a permanent member of the Congress Working Committee till the last, he did not enjoy her confidence. And this goes back many years ago.

Congress old-timers recall how Fotedar had lobbied hard with senior party leader Digvijay Singh, when he was Madhya Pradesh chief minister in the late ’90s, for a Rajya Sabha nomination from his home state. Mr Singh was, however, powerless to help his old friend as he had instructions from Sonia Gandhi that Fotedar should not be accommodated. Mr Singh expressed his helplessness to Fotedar but the latter immediately understood the real reason for the rejection. He is learnt to have sobbed like a baby in Mr Singh’s presence at this humiliation even as he heaped blame on Sonia Gandhi for sidelining him.

Tags: nirmala sitharaman, modi government, rahul gandhi