Old school skirt

CPI(M) MP Brinda Karat, who entered the Rajya Sabha last year, canvassed for her good friend Subhashini Ali to be elected to the House from West Bengal. Ali is president of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) and Karat was earlier general secretary of the CPI(M)'s women wing. But their friendship goes back much further. Both were in the same class at the elite Welham boarding school in Dehra Dun.

Although it is much smaller than the nearby Doon Public School for boys, many of the alumni from Welham Girls' School who passed out in the Sixties have made a name for themselves. The list of the eminent alumni includes well-known media personalities Tavleen Singh and Madhu Trehan; co-founder and co-owner of NDTV Radhika Roy, who is Brinda's sister; film director Deepa Mehta; sculptress Mrinalini Mukherjee; Dastkar founder Laila Tayabjee; leading Seventies model Kirat Binder; and author of Bandit Queen, Mala Sen.

The CPI(M) leadership, however, opted for Tapan Sen, the low-key CITU secretary who is little known outside his home state and union circles, rather than the fiercely articulate Ali.

Backing a losing horse

The MEA may have been informed before it was announced that Shashi Tharoor would be India's candidate for UN Secretary General, but it was certainly not consulted. For that matter neither were the UPA allies and partners. The MEA view was that it was best we kept away from the election, which would detract from our main objective of a permanent seat in the Security Council. Tharoor in any case has a slim chance of success and is not even from the Indian establishment. In the guessing game as to who was responsible for the political decision to sponsor Tharoor, most point a finger at NSA chief M K Narayanan. Manmohan Singh seems to have no particular stake and is not even planning to attend the UN General Assembly meet this year, where he could have campaigned on Tharoor's behalf. (Incidentally some of Singh's detractors in the Congress who want him out of the Government had spread the word earlier that Singh himself was an ideal candidate for the post of Secretary General!)

Significantly, when Tharoor visited Delhi in April to canvass support, he called on the chairperson of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi, without whose backing the decision could not have been taken. A well-known author and scholar is believed to have opened doors for him at 10 Janpath.

Out-of-turn favour

Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi has upset many in government service by breaking with the tradition that only after an entire batch of empanelled IAS officers has been allotted are suitable placements for the next batch made. Chaturvedi, however, has begun placements for the 1974 batch of additional secretaries even though the reviews of the 1971, 1972 and 1973 batches are not yet over, suggesting that there are some very powerful officers in this particular batch whom the Cabinet Secretary wants to keep in good humour.

Kalam's energy secret

Senior officials are still trying to figure out what makes President Abdul Kalam tick. Usually when presidents visit the Rashtrapati Bhavan summer retreat in Hyderabad it is for a vacation. But Kalam does not believe in holidays and instead convened a conference on bio-diesel and energy security in Hyderabad. Senior bureaucrats flew down from Delhi along with a dozen NGOs from the energy sector. The discussions went on from 10 am to 10 pm with almost no break. By afternoon some of those present had dozed off, even as the President was enthusiastically discussing the energy strategy and vision for 2010.

The President's energy at the age of 75 is all the more astounding considering that just a day earlier he had been on a Sukhoi sortie and suffered no ill-effects.

No probing questions

Aditi Mehta, a joint secretary in the Panchayati Raj Ministry who sanctioned funds from her ministry to two NGOs which were controlled by her father-in-law and husband respectively for organising a conference of women panchayat leaders in Udaipur, has been given a clean chit by an internal inquiry. Mehta has been exonerated on the ground that she mentioned her relationship with the NGOs on the file and the two organisations she selected are the most prominent ones in the region. But should not someone ask questions as to why Udaipur was selected from all over India as the right place to launch this experiment? And in any case why was the attendance of the female panchayat heads at the meet so low?

Parliamentary precedent

The reason the Congress is adamant that it will make no change whatsoever in the controversial Office of Profit Bill before placing it before Parliament in the coming session is that even if there is even a minor alteration the President has the right to return the Bill once again. But he has per force to sign the same Bill the second time around.

Incidentally, President Kalam's action in returning a Bill to Parliament is unique. The earlier three precedents which have been cited by the media were different. This is the first time a President has used his powers under Article 111 independently to take such a step without consulting his prime minister or council of ministers. President Zail Singh did not return the Indian Post Office (Amendment) Bill of 1986, as is generally assumed. He simply sat over the Bill and did not sign it. When his successor R Venkataraman returned the same Bill to Parliament, he was specifically asked to do so by V P Singh, the then prime minister. Singh also asked Venkataraman to return the Bill on perks and privileges of parliamentarians.

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