The Budget Session of Parliament was kicked off in great style, with the Badals hosting their traditional makki ki roti and sarson ka saag lunch along with other mouth-watering treats from the land of Punjab. What made the lunch interesting was to see the cross party guest list, which itself was an indicator of the goodwill the Badal couple enjoys, especially in these polarised times. And so MPs from both NDA and UPA took time off from their politicking to enjoy the winter sun on Budget eve. There were Union Ministers Nitin Gadkari, S. Jaishankar, Piyush Goyal, Prahlad Patel and the man of the moment, Anurag Thakur, who was being asked to pose for many a selfie with some of the guests and the staff. Clearly, his recent tryst with infamy hadn’t dimmed his pin-up appeal. Others present included Praful Patel, Naresh Gujral, Pinaki Misra, Supriya Sule, Rajiv Shukla, Kanimozhi, Jay Panda, Jayant Sinha, Rajyavardhan Rathore, Yashoraje Scindia, Dushyant Singh, Chirag Paswan, Shashi Tharoor, Jayant Sinha, Neeraj Shekhar, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Saugata Roy and Kirron Kher in her dazzling dark-glasses that debuted at Praful Patel’s lunch last December. Another young MP who caught the media’s eye was young Ritesh Pandey, who has recently been elevated as the BSP’s leader of the Lok Sabha. The mood was light, everyone was making the most of the bonhomie before the fracas began in Parliament. In fact, when Yashoraje Scindia posed for a picture with her sister Vasundhara Raje’s son Dushyant, a journalist quipped, the caption of this picture should be “The Nephew She Clicks With”, for one is all too aware of the strained ties between the late Madhavrao Scindia’s sisters and his son Jyotiraditya. Which makes one wonder, in today’s strained political ties, where else would one see such a cross-section of MPs lunching together? Praful Patel’s residence is another such neutral venue.
From Niti to Rajniti
Will this be Nirmala Sitharaman’s last budget? The rumours were still rife on Budget Day and some whispered about Prime Minister Narendra Modi bringing in a technocrat to the Finance Ministry, for he is clearly happy with the Jaishankar experiment in Ministry of External Affairs. While K.V. Kamath’s name has been in the papers, another contender could be Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman at NITI Aayog. He has a certain bounce in his step that is suddenly missing from Amitabh Kant’s stride (CEO, Niti Aayog). From Niti to Rajniti? Well, watch this space as we keep track of all the rumours doing the rounds for this most coveted (or not—given the state of the economy) job. And one question: why is no one talking about Piyush Goyal as a serious contender anymore?
Doing it Right
From Delhi to Amritsar in three and a half hours? No this is not talk of a new bullet train, but Sukhbir Badal, former Punjab Chief Minister and Akali Dal leader, has managed to persuade the affable Nitin Gadkari, Cabinet Minister for Road Transport & Highways to okay an expressway from Delhi to Amritsar that will reduce travel time drastically. Which brings the Golden Temple so much more accessible to the capital. If this is mixing religion with politics, then this is the only way to do so.
Last Lap for Delhi
This is the last week before Delhi goes to the polls and the campaign is going to heat up with Prime Minister Narendra Modi tipped to address a few rallies. Never before has there been a more polarised campaign as CAA and the Shaheen Bagh protest take centre stage. This may not be the narrative that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was keen on. In fact, in the last phase he has been advised not to do too many interviews as the questions tend to focus more on CAA than issues he’d like to raise—his track record on development. Even then political pundits claim that it will be tough for the BJP to cross a dozen seats. Of course those in the know claim that Amit Shah’s figures are much more optimistic than that. And certainly it may be the PM’s face on the posters, but until the last week of the campaign, it has been the Home Minister who has been the star campaigner, with young Anurag Thakur emerging as a quick understudy. One question though: Has the shootout at Jamia, where one of the protestors was injured, dented the BJP’s campaign? One only shudders to think if it was the other way around. But all in all, the politicians have let the citizens of Delhi down in making this an election that was even more toxic than the city’s air pollution levels.