With the Centre signaling the end of the austerity regime that came into force last year, the good old days of going on official foreign trips to attend seminars and conferences are back. Or so it seems going by the elaborate travel itinerary of some cabinet ministers and their babus. An eight-member delegation led by Minister of State for Urban Development Saugata Roy and Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Kumari Selja along with senior bureaucrats from the two ministries flew off to Rio de Janeiro on March 20 for a week to attend the Fifth World Urban Forum meet organised by UN-Habitat (Human Settlements Programme) to examine the issue of rapid urbanisation and its impact on economies and policies. Bon voyage!
A remarkable candour
With his off-the-cuff remarks, Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh does not spare anyone. This time it was the turn of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “I was surprised when the PM agreed to bifurcate my ministry. Normally, he constitutes a committee or says we will look into it,” Ramesh said. Making such remarks is not new for Ramesh. In the past, he passed such remarks against top leaders of his own party and even dignitaries. Bold chap, isn’t he?
Tied up in knots
Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari led from the front to ease tensions in the House following the suspension of seven MPs for their unruly behaviour on the Women’s Reservation Bill. On the last day of the session before a 26-day recess during the session, Ansari had the House in splits, when in response to a remark by AIADMK member K. Malaiswamy that he has asked a difficult question to the civil aviation minister, the chairman quipped: “Why are you asking it then ?”
No ducking Beijing now
The thaw in India-China relations is very much happening. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna has now decided to spend five days instead of a planned three-day visit in China in April after various province units of the Chinese Communist Party asked for more events. In May, President Pratibha Patil will be in China for seven days. Who said ‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai’ is old hat?
No assent for dissent
Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed is avoiding the AICC office these days. Reason: several Congress leaders and workers from Bihar are camping in Delhi to convince Congress President Sonia Gandhi to change the state leadership. Some of these dissidents have projected him as their leader. So, Ahmed does not want to be seen hobnobbing with them or encouraging their dissident activities. The situation has taken a different turn now with the arrival of members of the rival group in Delhi. The other day, Ahmed requested Congress media Department Chairman Janardan Dwivedi to cancel his briefing. He’s getting touchy, isn’t he?
People in glass houses
Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh is often seen moving about in Parliament wearing sunglasses. The other day he entered the Lok Sabha wearing his shades when the discussion on the general budget was going on and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha was making his point. Sinha got distracted on seeing Ramesh. “Kaala chashma… Mein toh dar gaya (Black glasses… I got scared),” he said, prompting Ramesh to hastily take off his glasses. A round of transparent laughter followed.
The room with views
Satyavrat Chaturvedi was removed from the panel of Congress spokespersons after his abusive remark against NCP chief and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. He had also faced the ire of party bosses when he had spoken against Amar Singh soon after the UPA 1 won the trust vote in 2008. Somehow, he continued to be on the panel that time. He was given a swanky room in place of his old stuffy one and many of his party colleagues wondered whether he was being punished or rewarded. No such luck for him this time. Yet.