UNCLE SAM’S HOMECOMING
It is now known that some of the credit for Rahul Gandhi’s astonishing makeover, which has transformed the Congress vice-president’s image to a positive one, is thanks to Uncle Sam, Satyanarayan (‘‘Sam’’) Gangaram Pitroda. The makeover started with Rahul’s visit to the US, organised by Pitroda, who has remained close to the family, thanks to his work on telecom for Rahul’s late father and ex-PM, Rajiv Gandhi. Pitroda is now experiencing a homecoming—his family is from Gujarat and he completed his education in the state before moving to the US. He is here to help with Rahul’s election campaigning, to interact with the state’s business community and prepare the party’s manifesto. It’s not all been smooth sailing. A scheduled meeting with the Surat Chamber of Commerce had to be scrapped after the state government put pressure on traders and businessmen to stay away. He now has to accept that all is not fair in love, war and during elections.
It’s the might of the government pitted against just one student. The student is Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU fame who is constantly trailed by intelligence and police personnel wherever he goes. Last week, an annual literary festival in Lucknow was cancelled by the state government. The reason: among the speakers was student leader Kanhaiya. Local officials offered a lame excuse about there being a model code of conduct in connection with upcoming local body elections, but no one was in any doubt it was because of Kanhaiya. Members of right-wing outfits had stormed the venue, shouting, “Kanhaiya is a traitor”. The Kanhaiya paranoia extends to JNU. Students have complained that the university Wi-Fi does not allow access to online videos of Kanhaiya, opposition leaders Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee, along with NDTV and news portal The Wire. So much for broadening young minds.
Anyone looking to meet senior BJP ministers next week will find no one available. The party has assigned no fewer than 30 top leaders to converge on different parts of Gujarat for an election blitzkrieg on the same day—tentatively fixed for November 24. They include Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Piyush Goyal, Nitin Gadkari, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Smriti Irani and Prakash Javadekar and chief ministers Yogi Adityanath, Vasundhara Raje, Devendra Fadnavis, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Manohar Lal Khattar. The plan is for them to visit pre-selected constituencies where the BJP is on shaky ground. The first phase of voting is on December 9 and the second on December 14. The huge show of strength suggests that the BJP is not all that confident about the electoral outcome. Of course, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah will lead the charge of the heavy brigade.
President Ram Nath Kovind’s family seems to have a strong aviation connection. His daughter, Swati, is a senior air hostess with Air India and was in the news recently after she was given a ground job when her enhanced security profile led to her being taken off the roster for the Boeing 787 and 777 long-haul flights to the US and Europe. She is listed in the airlines’ personnel records as Swati, with no last name (she had stated her father’s name as RN Kovind) and kept silent about him being a BJP MP and later pre-sident till last month. The other family connection to aviation is her brother, Prashant, the elder of the president’s two children. He was a cabin manager with Jet Airways when he took premature retirement in 2015 after almost two decades in the aviation sector. He now runs a petrol pump on the outskirts of Delhi. That’s not all. The president’s brother-in-law, C Shekhar, also worked in Air India as an in-flight supervisor and is now retired. That’s the definition of a high-flying family!