Anita Katyal | Mamata wins at musical chairs; is IB being shorn of Muslim cops?

The Trinamul chief was also given a prominent seat at the joint press conference after the meeting.

There is an interesting observation by the protagonist in Amor Towles’ novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, on seating arrangements for a formal dinner or meeting. “Seating is everything,” he said and cited past examples on how a wrong move had changed the course of history. Congress leaders clearly understood the importance of seating as they vied with each other to sit next to party leader Sonia Gandhi at the recent Opposition meet in Bengaluru. Since she is not seen regularly at political events these days, Sonia Gandhi’s participation in the Bengaluru summit created quite a stir. The event witnessed a proverbial game of musical chairs as Congress leaders awaited their turn to grab the chair next to the former party chief. At one point, two party leaders did succeed in their mission. But before they could make themselves comfortable, they were evicted by an upset Rahul Gandhi who asked them to ensure the meeting went off without a hitch. He then requested West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to take the seat next to Sonia Gandhi. The two chatted amiably as they are known to share warm relations. Joining in the conversation, Rahul Gandhi enquired about Mamata Banerjee’s ligament injury and told her about his experience as he, too, had suffered a similar injury during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The Trinamul chief was also given a prominent seat at the joint press conference after the meeting. For sure, seating is critical.

And while on the subject of seating, here’s another titbit from the Bengaluru summit. It was obvious during the two days that the Congress leadership was going all out to keep Karnataka deputy chief minister D.K. Shivakumar in good humour and seating played a key role in this. For instance, at the media briefing held before the meeting, Congress leaders K.C. Venugopal and Jairam Ramesh specially asked Shivakumar to sit with them while they addressed the press. Before the meeting started, Mr Shivakumar was spotted welcoming all Opposition leaders and posing for photographs with them. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi as well other invitees, including Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav spent a lot of time chatting with Shivakumar. Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, who was the chief host, was virtually invisible as he was kept busy with the arrangements for the meeting. In addition, he was preparing for the Karnataka Assembly session and the launch of the Gruhalakshmi scheme which was unveiled last week.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Paris trip sent the external affairs ministry into a tizzy as it sought to explain the reason for excluding references to the deals on Rafale-M jets and Scorpene submarines from the joint statement. While the Rafale-M jet deal did not figure in the statement, the Scorpene deal was mentioned in the text of the agreement uploaded by the ministry. However, it was subsequently withdrawn. But the new text made no mention of the Scorpene deal although the two have been cleared by the defence ministry. The ministry tied itself in knots as it played down the media reports on these omissions. It held two briefings to point out that these deals were only proposals and that the first text of the joint agreement was uploaded by mistake. Apparently, the government got cold feet about publicising these deals as it does not want to give an opportunity to the Opposition to raise questions about them as it did following the purchase of Rafale jets. As in that case, the Rafale-M and Scorpene deals are government-to-government arrangements which give room to accusations of there being kickbacks.

Union home minister Amit Shah is said to have issued strict instructions to state leaders in Madhya Pradesh during his recent visit to the state that they should get cracking for the year-end Assembly polls. Central ministers from the state have been particularly told that besides attending the weekly Cabinet meetings, they should not be seen in Delhi but should instead spend time touring their respective constituencies. Mr Shah’s visit turned out to be a disappointment for several state leaders like Kailash Vijayvargiya, Narottam Mishra and Jyotiraditya Scindia. Not only were they told the party will go to polls with the current team, no senior leader was tipped for any major responsibility or post in the run-up to the elections. Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar has been the only lucky one, having been given charge of the election management committee for the state.

After decades, the country’s Intelligence Bureau will have no senior Muslim IPS officer in important positions. The last Muslim IPS officer in the premier intelligence agency, S.A. Rizvi (special director) found his tenure curtailed last week when he was eased out and appointed advisor, National Disaster Management Authority. It has been noticed that the number of Muslim IPS officers in the IB has dwindled significantly in recent years. This is in sharp contrast to the earlier regimes when an Asif Ibrahim could rise to the rank of IB director or Rafiul Alam, an Assam cadres IPS officer, could hold key positions during his deputation with the agency.

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