Not star-struck by budgetary pressures
Astrologically-minded MPs are a bit wary about finance minister Pranab Mukherjee presenting this year’s general budget on Friday, March 16, at 11 am. This is a time of the day that they believe to be inauspicious (‘Rahu kalam’). Some North Block babus were sounded out about this concern. But they held that the timing could not be shifted. Mukherjee wanted the budget to be presented on a Friday so that the stock markets had sufficient time to study it before reacting. According to convention, till 1988 the budget was presented on the last working day of February at 5pm -- in the late afternoon because of the archaic rule handed down from British-administered India that saw India’s Budget being presented at a time that would be more comfortable for British parliamentarians sitting in London. This was changed in 1999 when it was presented at 11 am. Since then, the Budget is presented at 11 am on the last working day of February -- except in 2000 when it was presented at 2 pm. Assembly elections shifted the last day of February to mid-March this time round. So humans, rather than stars, have thankfully dictated terms for this year’s Budget speech.
10 Janpath’s could-have-been resident
Come Holi, BJP leader LK Advani never forgets to remind people about the proposal made by Rajiv Gandhi way back in 1991 that the BJP leader move into 10, Janpath Road. Advani recalled last week on his blog that when the Congress had “propped up” Chandra Shekhar as PM, Gandhi had congratulated him for becoming Leader of the Opposition, also suggesting that he move from his Pandara Park residence and shift to 10, Janpath. Gandhi, according to Advani, wanted 10, Janpath to become the permanent residence of the leader of the Opposition, just as 7, Race Course Road is the permanent residence of the prime minister. “I thanked him for the offer, but declined to accept it,” said the resident of 30, Prithviraj Road, where he shifted from his old Pandara Road house in 2002.
Making that late, happy call
The news about the prime minister calling up and congratulating victorious party leaders in the assembly elections last week was instantly relayed by the PMO to the media. But it took a while before someone pointed out a glaring omission. Manmohan Singh had not congratulated Ibobi Singh, the Congress chief minister of Manipur, who had led the party to a third consecutive win. After a gap, a second message from the PMO followed about one Singh from Delhi congratulating the other Singh in Imphal.
Friendship at a cost?
Soon after exit polls had predicted a Congress victory in Punjab, a SMS ‘campaign’ was launched against Congress chief ministerial candidate Amarinder Singh. These messages came from international numbers and was signed as ‘Meri Peri’. The SMSs targeted Singh over his ‘friendship’ with Pakistani journalist-socialite Aroosa Alam. One of the messages read: “Think…Will Punjab now again be ruled from Lahore not Chandigarh?” The cross-border ‘friendship’ between the two had apparently become a major poll issue in Punjab. During one of his pre-poll interactions with the media, the Punjab Congress president had remarked that, “She [Aroosa] is a friend and friendship is a non-negotiable issue.” Fair enough, Punjab’s electorate seemed to have said in response.
How to drive away the blues
Telecom minister Kapil Sibal hosted a dinner for journalists at his residence last week. But the timing set many tongues a-wagging. A dinner at a time when the Congress was yet to come out of the shock of the debacle in the assembly elections? “The mourning period has not ended,” a Congress functionary was reportedly heard saying. Maybe he didn’t care for the menu?
BSP to Congress’s rescue
Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Birendra Singh faced many anxious moments in Uttarakhand where they were sent to check the views of legislators and supporting independents regarding who, they thought, could be the next chief minister in the state. The problems multiplied for the faction-ridden Congress after independents Dinesh Dhanai, Harish Chandra Durgapal and Mantri Prasad Naithani, along with Uttarakhand Kranti Dal(P) legislator Preetam Panwar, gave their own choices of chief ministerial candidates as a pre-condition for their support to the Congress. While Panwar and Dhanai favoured Lok Sabha MP Vijay Bahuguna, Durgapal rooted for former state minister Indira Hridyesh, and Naithani for another Lok Sabha MP Satpal Maharaj. As a nervous Congress went about discussing how to pacify the independents, the BSP came to its rescue by offering its unconditional support to the Congress government. Talk about the wonders of federalism.