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Inside track: When Sonia Gandhi went sari shopping

From LK Advani's wedding anniversary party to the long standoff between the Home Ministry and the Ford Foundation in India. We get you the details from Lutyen's Delhi.

Written by Coomi Kapoor |
March 13, 2016 12:05:53 am
Sonia Gandhi, Congress, Inside Track, Politics, Congress President Sonia Gandhi

Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to put him to pasture, L K Advani, even at the age of 88, remains a consummate politician. Recently, Advani celebrated his wedding anniversary and claimed it would be an apolitical affair, so unlike his birthday celebration, he wouldn’t invite ministers or journalists. However, the guests included all the prominent BJP dissidents such as Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar. Shatrughan Sinha was also invited but he was not in Delhi. The malcontents were all sitting at the same table. Incidentally, the only member of Modi’s ministerial team present was Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha, who accompanied his father.

Bilateral tensions at conference

The Raisina Dialogue in Delhi last week was an attempt by the Ministry of External Affairs to hold a major international conference in collaboration with a privately owned think tank. The official title was Asian Connectivity, but an underlying theme throughout the meet was challenging China’s position as a premier power in the region. While China was not referred to directly by name, there were insinuations in some speeches about those having hegemonic ambitions in Asia. Adding to the tension between India and China at the meet was a conference booklet which identified the representative from Taiwan as “Ambassador of the Republic of China (Taiwan)”. The Chinese ambassador and a former Chinese foreign minister threatened to walk out of the inauguration over the perceived insult. India doesn’t recognise RoC, so the faux pas was the equivalent of equating Pakistan Occupied Kashmir with an independent country. The ministry hastily apologised for the slip and attempted to assuage the Chinese feelings.

Overshadowed by youth

Apart from CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, few senior leaders in the Left Front seem keen to get JNU Students’ Union leader Kanhaiya Kumar to campaign in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Kerala and West Bengal. Kanhaiya has breathed new life into the moribund CPI, thanks to his much televised speech after his release on bail. But it looks as if the elderly comrades do not want to be upstaged by a newcomer, that too a university student. They have been giving several excuses for why Kanhaiya cannot campaign — that they are concerned for his personal safety and the fact that he is on bail in the sedition case and cannot leave Delhi. Instead, they have been suggesting, cassettes of his speech should be distributed during the campaign. In fact, Kanhaiya’s bail conditions do not prevent him from leaving Delhi.

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When Sonia went sari shopping

Congress president Sonia Gandhi inherited her mother-in-law’s rich and varied sari collection, which included handloom saris from all over the country. Most of Indira Gandhi’s saris were chosen or ordered for her by her good friend Pupul Jayakar, who was once chairperson of the The Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation. Sonia Gandhi, who like Indira is knowledgeable about Indian weaves, seems to prefer choosing her saris herself. Last week, she was seen shopping at the Crafts Council of India’s Kairi exhibition. Her many purchases included saris from Bastar, Ikkats from Odisha, Chanderis and Chettinad handlooms. The organisers said that normally they send a selection of saris to her house, but this time, Sonia decided to visit the exhibition for a wider choice.

After standoff, a climbdown

The long standoff between the Home Ministry and the Ford Foundation in India has ended with the latter climbing down from its high horse. The Foundation, which has been operating in India for over half a century without being incorporated under any Indian Act, has finally applied and got permission to function as a liaison office in Delhi. It has also formally applied to the ministry for permission to allot grants to some two dozen Indian NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. Incidentally, the foundation was a major funder of the NGO run by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia till the two got into politics.

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