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The second S K Singh Memorial Award ceremony was held at the Prime Minister's residence, 7 Race Course Road. Manmohan Singh presented the award to Tanmaya Lal, a 1991 batch IFS officer. Rahul Gandhi was present and so was the entire top brass of the Ministry of External Affairs, including minister Salman Khurshid. National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon and most former foreign secretaries were in attendance too. Vice President Hamid Ansari was head of the jury for selecting the award winner. The award is unusual in that a private trust, the Jai Surendra Trust, is partnering with the Ministry of External Affairs and the prize is presented each year to a serving government officer. The importance given to the function is not just out of respect for Singh, a former foreign secretary, but because his son, Kanishka, is Rahul Gandhi's right hand man and a person to cultivate in the power-conscious Capital.
If Nitin Gadkari was the favourite of Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, Rajnath Singh has always been close to Suresh Soni, the RSS's point person in the BJP. Singh's elevation was not so much an acknowledgement of his
potential, but a reflection of the inability of the RSS and the party to agree on any other candidate, including Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar. (Sushma Swaraj, who is friendly with Singh, shrewdly ruled herself out of the race.) For the RSS, an added plus was that Advani was opposed to his candidature since he was sidelined during Singh's earlier tenure as BJP president. Senior BJP leaders are watching apprehensively to see whether Singh promotes factionalism in the party as he had allegedly done during his last stint as party chief. A Delhi businessman who was meddling unduly in BJP affairs during Singh's last tenure is hopeful of reasserting himself under the new regime.
The Congress laid out the red carpet for the media at the chintan shivir in Jaipur. From luxury double-decker buses from Delhi to Jaipur to accommodation at the five star Clarks Hotel, no effort was spared to keep the scribes happy. Nevertheless, a lot of journalists were miffed. The bone of contention was that while some journalists stayed at the Clarks Amer, others were told to move to a more distant guest house as there were not enough rooms at the hotel. While most of the representatives from the "national media" stayed at the Clarks the regional press was allotted rooms in guest houses. "Are we anti-national" protested one insulted senior scribe from a leading Bengali daily. A woman correspondent shot off an angry SMS to Congress president's political secretary, Ahmed Patel. The media in charge, Tom Vadakkan, was helpless and blamed the mix-up on local PCC workers who did the bookings. Several senior Congress leaders, including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Mukul Wasnik, Jairam Ramesh and Digvijay Singh, met the media to try and smooth ruffled feathers. However, the head of the AICC's media cell Janardan Dwivedi did not make an appearance.
Bureaucrats working for the Rajasthan Government did not make any distinction between government and party during the Congress jamboree in Jaipur. Rajasthan cadre information officers based in Jaipur and Delhi were roped in to provide help and logistical support to the media contingent which had come to cover the event.
Practice vs preaching
At the discussions on organisational changes at the chintan shivir in Jaipur, Rahul Gandhi agreed with the view that outsiders who had joined the party lately should not be given precedence over long-time loyalists. Sitting to the right and left of Gandhi were Mohan Prakash who was formerly with the Janata Dal and Madhusudan Mistry. Both men have been entrusted with important assignments in the party. In his speech at the convention, Gandhi also talked of the need for Congresspersons to stop travelling in cars with red beacons and to do away with nepotism!
Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Kamal Nath has conceived a clever scheme to keep parliamentarians in good humour. He proposes to send batches of MPs on delegations to different countries to lobby for India getting a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Programmes for visits to Vietnam and Turkey have already been chalked out. Washington, Paris and Beijing are other probable destinations.
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