PM Narendra Modi broke with convention on at least three occasions on his recent visit to France, Germany and Canada. In France, Modi unilaterally announced the purchase of the Rafale jets. Normally, such announcements are made in conjunction with the defence minister or in a joint statement by both countries. In Canada, Modi criticised the UPA’s foreign policy. Raking up domestic politics on foreign soil, even if the audience was largely of Indian origin, is not kosher. Modi also gave a lift in his aircraft to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Normally, heads of government travel in separate planes for security reasons.
The common wheel
The parking space at Parliament House reflects MPs’ growing affluence. There is a line-up of chauffeur-driven SUVs, Mercedes, Audis and BMWs. Amidst such luxury, it is heartening to see a humble cycle with gears. It belongs to Arjun Ram Meghwal, the 62-year-old BJP MP from Bikaner. He cycles from his North Avenue residence to Parliament and has put up a sign on his bike so that the security staff does not keep harassing him.
Not so wary
After meeting ministers, Subramanian Swamy has a disconcerting habit of issuing a press statement on the discussion he has just held. So seasoned ministers have learnt to be wary while speaking to Swamy and usually refrain from discussing controversial issues. However, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was not so cautious when he met Swamy recently. Swamy promptly put out a statement saying that Parrikar was planning to release the long-suppressed Henderson Brooks report. Parrikar was perhaps not aware that the reason a series of governments had refused to release the report after all these years was not to protect individuals but because some portions of the report would prove embarrassing to the country.
Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu is irked with the MEA for scuttling his proposed trip to Singapore. Naidu had, before the death of Lee Kuan Yew, fixed his trip to Singapore for some work-related meetings. The MEA declined to give him permission on the grounds that Modi had to attend Lee’s funeral and it would look awkward if Naidu preceded him. The CM’s secretariat then proposed that Naidu could travel to Singapore along with the PM. But the MEA did not get back.
Attempts to whitewash
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is beginning to feel subtle pressure from several quarters, including fellow politicians and businessmen, on recent decisions meant to curb black money. A powerful lobby is opposed to the Finance Ministry’s new rule that all real-estate transactions of over Rs 1 lakh in cash require production of a PAN card. A specious reason given is that the move is anti-farmer since farmers don’t have PAN cards. Again, there is opposition to the proposal that those who make more than one foreign trip abroad annually provide financial details in their income tax forms. The ostensible objection is that this makes filling out the income tax form too complicated. Another unpopular measure among vested interests is the black money Bill which proposes imprisonment of up to 10 years for concealment of funds abroad. Some MPs feel it should be referred to a select committee. If that happens, the proposal could be delayed, if not scuttled.
Birds and beasts
In selecting a house in Lutyens Delhi, government officials, ministers and MPs have to keep in mind traditional animal habitats. On Krishna Menon Marg, the bungalows are large, the lawns sprawling but one has to live with the constant menace of monkeys descending on the gardens. On Safdarjung Road, peacocks dance on the lawns early in the morning. Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi discovered a large number of green parrots nesting in the trees of his 2, Motilal Nehru Marg, residence. Just a few houses away, Supreme Court judge Justice V Gopala Gowda’s garden is teeming with bats.
A different angle
Bibek Debroy, a member of the NITI Aayog, surprised many when in an interview to Rajya Sabha TV he confessed that he would be making a “politically incorrect” observation. His argument is that the legal status of the land acquisition Bill is itself questionable since land is a state subject. He cites the Constitution’s Seventh Schedule, which apportions the powers between states, the Centre and Concurrent list. Item 18 of the states’ list declares that “land, that is to say, rights in or over land, land tenures including the relation of landlord and tenant, and the collection of rents; transfer and alienation of agricultural land; land improvement and agricultural loans; colonisation”, is the responsibility of the state.