If the Gujarat elections registered a new low in personal attacks and campaign rhetoric, it also marked a nadir for a once-credible institution—the Election Commission. The bias was so patently obvious—issuing a show cause notice to Rahul Gandhi for an interview that had not been aired yet while turning a blind eye to the BJP releasing its manifesto after campaigning had ended and just before voting in the first phase began; Narendra Modi meeting with FICCI after which the industry body’s President issued a statement praising the Prime Minister, Modi’s Mann Ki Baat programme during elections; the protocol-avoiding seaplane flight and the one kilometre “road show” by the PM after he cast his vote. The target is Chief Election Commissioner AK Joti who had done the BJP a big favour already by the delay in announcing election dates for Gujarat on the flimsiest excuse, which allowed the BJP to announce a large number of sops, including reductions in GST rates. Does the fact that Joti—who was made CEC last April—served most of his career in Gujarat including as chief secretary of Gujarat and Team Leader of “Team Gujarat” between 2009 and 2013 when Modi was chief minister, have anything to do with his rulings? Modi’s dependence on Gujarat officials who have served under him is legendary but Joti is retired and head of a supposedly autonomous organisation, so his actions deserve greater scrutiny.
There is much speculation regarding the fate of Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar (below) who completes his extended tenure next month. He happens to be a Modi favourite—the government amended service rules last January, so that he could be given another year’s extension. Service rules stipulate a two-year fixed term for defence, home, and foreign secretaries, besides the CBI director. However, the Modi government had amended the rules to include that “the central government may—if deemed necessary for public interest—give an extension in service for a further period not exceeding one year…to the foreign secretary”. The public is hardly interested in who the foreign secretary should be but the IFS cadre certainly is. One name doing the rounds as successor was current ambassador to the US, Navtej Singh Sarna but he is due to retire on December 31, 2017 and has already served out an extention. The smart money is on Vijay Gokhale, India’s envoy to Beijing, who was brought back to South Block as Secretary (Economic Relations). Gokhale’s experience will be invaluable in relations with China being vital to India’s security interests.
Exclusively Yours Mr Prime Minister
India’s Press Information Bureau (PIB), established in 1919 as a gateway for citizens to access the programmes and policies of the Union government, is now referred to by wags as the PMPIB (Prime Minister’s Private Information Bureau). It’s not difficult to fathom why. Even a cursory glance at its home page, once a broadsheet of useful governmental tips, looks like a Facebook album for Narendra Modi. Last week, the lead was a slide show of five photos of Modi unveiling plaques and chairing meetings. The top right hand is a column with Modi’s picture with links to his speeches and his foreign visits. The video wall is Modi’s speech dedicating the Tuirial Hydropower Project in Aizawl, Mizoram. Then there’s a link dedicated to Modi’s radio broadcasts Mann Ki Baat. The main featured story is a PEW report headlined “Support to Modi Remains Strong”. The opening photo gallery remains the prime minister’s reserved space.
The Family Tradition
The remarkable transformation of Rahul Gandhi from no hoper to a serious challenger to Narendra Modi has some history involving the country’s First Family of politics. His grandmother Indira Gandhi was written off after her electoral wipe out in 1977 post-Emergency but she bounced back a year later with the collapse of the Janata coalition. His father Rajiv Gandhi was routed after the Bofors scandal and VP Singh’s moral crusade, yet, there was no question that had he not been assassinated in 1991, he would have come storming back to power. Sonia was dismissed as a foreigner with zero understanding of Indian politics but ended up presiding over UPA1 and UPA2. Rahul’s political resurgence after being ridiculed as “pappu”, could count as being in his DNA.