The Gandhi Parivar is perceived as a cabal of control freaks. They never delegate power. From Indira Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi, the family has been calling the shots and dictating the terms of engagement and entitlement for its leaders and workers. When the party wins an election, the family hogs the credit. When Congress loses, others get the blame. When state leaders fight, the Gandhis are the final arbiters. Earlier, minor posts were decided by them. But last month, the Parivar delegated fire-fighting powers to local chieftains. But who will choose the chief?
Obviously, last week the Gandhi troika comprising Sonia, Priyanka and Rahul asserted its authority and also altered the style of using it. Taking a leaf from PM Modi’s book, the Gandhis ordered the powerful Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to quit. The media was spoon-fed a different story and possible names for successors. But the touted names were bogus. Party general secretary Ajay Maken and another senior leader were sent to Chandigarh to depose the Maharaja of Patiala.
Maken was told to go through the motions of taking the opinion of all Congress MLAs. According to insiders, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa was the most popular choice followed by Sunil Jakhar, Charanjeet Singh Channi and Congress state president Navjot Sidhu. Randhawa being a Jat Sikh was eliminated because Sidhu, a Jat Sikh himself, was the boss. Jakhar lost because the Gandhis were not comfortable with imposing a first ever non-Sikh as Punjab Chief Minister just before the elections. Finally, Channi, a Dalit Sikh, was made the chief minister. Before accepting the offer, Channi made it clear that he wanted a free hand in the appointment of senior officials and allocation of portfolios. The Gandhis agreed that they wouldn’t interfere but Channi would have to tackle the fallout of his decisions. When Sidhu quit as the party chief over the choice of the chief secretary and the advocate general, he sought the intervention of the high command but was told he was on his own.
Following instructions from the top, Channi met Sidhu and visited Delhi to meet Modi to promote his own political agenda. By giving Channi much more autonomy than the other Congress CMs, the Gandhis are deflecting possible personal attacks if their decisions cost the party the polls. If Channi, the only Dalit chief minister currently in the country, wins the battle, he will not only acquire a national status as a Dalit leader who the Congress desperately needs but also be a new addition to the list of Gandhi loyalists like Buta Singh. Channi’s anointment is also the first step towards weeding out netas who consider Rahul and Priyanka as non-starters.
CoWin A big loss for foreign flyers
Has COVID come back to bite the health minister? The government promotes CoWin portal as the world’s best known portal for handling trillions pieces of information. It was launched by the Union Health Ministry in January for vaccination registration and issuing certificates. It has been largely successful in facilitating the vaccination of about 900 million Indians in less than a year. National Health Authority CEO Dr R S Sharma has earned laurels for designing a unique portal. Yet, its credibility is as doubtful as the many false certifications during Modi’s birthday.
Its certificates are a suspect in the eyes of many international agencies. India is still in amber or red category in large parts of the world. Indian health authorities may not admit it but a significant error in the vaccination certificate is one of the reasons for Indians being humiliated at international airports. Sharma and his genius team of programmers forgot to add the date of birth in the certificate which mentioned only the age of a person. Rarely is a document issued by a sovereign nation rejected by other countries. But CoWin certificate was questioned because of reports that even those who weren’t vaccinated were issued certificates. In a large number of cases, the date of birth in the passports didn’t match the age on the certificate. Some nations raised questions about the picture of the Prime Minister on the certificate because no other country’s document carries a photograph of their head of government.
The omission of the date of birth was seen as tech trick to generate false certificates. What baffled the international agencies was the inexplicable ignorance or deliberate denial by CoWin authorities to ignore WHO standards. According to the WHO protocol, each vaccination certificate should have the full date of birth which is the same as in other travel documents. Ironically, CoWin officials, while advising people to register themselves for vaccination, asked them to submit copies of any one of the many documents like passport, PAN, voter identity card, Aadhaar and driving license. Each one carries the date of birth. But CoWin programmers ignored this crucial fact while designing the certificate. Recently, Sharma quietly announced that now each certificate will follow the WHO guidelines and include the date of birth as well. Sharma deserves another extension.
Apolitical ex-babu mantris fly high with blue bird
Social media has become the most powerful vehicle for social connectivity while keeping the mandatory distancing in place. Who else better than our babus-turned-netas to master new tech tricks? Under Narendra Modi, Union ministers are expected to maximise the use of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram etc to amplify the achievements of the government.
It is the first time that five retired civil servants have become members of the Union Cabinet. Hardeep Singh Puri, Union Minister for Urban Development and Petroleum (IFS), S Jaishankar, Minister for External Affairs (IFS), RCP Singh, Union Minister for Steel (IAS), RK Singh Minster for Power (IAS), Ashwani Vaishnaw, Minister for IT and Railways (IAS) lead the pack in tweeting the most. While RK Singh was elected to the Lok Sabha, the rest were personally handpicked by the Prime Minister after they shut shop. The top gun shooting from the hip in the social publicity blitz is Puri, a former ABVP activist, who tweets almost a dozen on a day — birthdays wishes, meeting ordinary workers, taking part in political activism and talking about his Ministry and the PM. Though he joined the platform after his retirement in 2014, he has acquired around 4.70 lakh followers. Ever since he became a minister, he has tweeted 3,30,00 times.
However, his junior in the service but senior in the ministerial hierarchy, S Jaishankar with over 1.1 million followers is a conservative tweeple. He joined Twitter only in May 2017 and has posted 4,000 tweets; all about his foreign and official visits and nothing about his social or political activities in which he rarely participates. The relatively younger Vaishnaw with over 3,36,000 followers is now the new social media warrior. Currently leading the IT Ministry, he joined Twitter in 2017 after he became Modi’s surprise pick for a Rajya Sabha seat from Odisha. He has taken to social media with a vengeance by posting around 3,000 tweets along with his various photographs in trains with passengers.
His former senior IAS colleague and Power Minister RK Singh with 75,000 followers is ahead with 8,000 tweets as he became a minister much earlier. However, Steel Minister RCP Singh, a former IAS officer from Uttar Pradesh and JD-U leader from Bihar, is the tortoise in the group. Having joined Twitter in 2013, he has barely posted 2,000 tweets in eight years perhaps because he isn’t part of the technologically driven leadership. But one thing is clear — babus are trying to cover up their lack of ground connectivity through wireless voices.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla