Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi with Emmanual Macron |
Former PM Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi with Emmanual Macron | Twitter
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The French side conveyed to Rahul that they had no objection to revealing details of the Rafale deal, but it was the Modi government, which was not keen.

Did Congress president Rahul Gandhi discuss the controversial Rafale purchase deal with the visiting French president Emmanuel Macron during his one-hour meeting this week? Apparently yes, according to insiders. It was the French side, which made a reference to it and conveyed it to the Congress delegation that they had no objection to reveal the details but it was the Indian government, which was not keen on it. It is to be seen whether the Congress party will make the news official.

While Rahul discussed the political situation in the country with Macron, former PM Manmohan Singh — who was part of the Congress delegation — explained the economic situation in the country. Rahul, along with Singh and Rajya Sabha deputy leader Anand Sharma, called on Macron for a customary courtesy call. This was perhaps the first time Rahul was engaged in such diplomatic exercise as Congress president as until now it was Sonia Gandhi who used to call on the visiting dignitaries as the leader of Congress party.

The Congress is agitated that the NDA government had bought the jets at three times the price concluded by the previous UPA government and Parliament has been stalled for the past one week by the opposition on this issue. The Congress argues that the Manmohan Singh government had negotiated the price of one plane at Rs 526.1 crore. Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman refused to disclose the price for the fighter jets citing threat to national security, but Dassault Aviation in its annual reports of 2016 and 2017 said that they had sold 36 Rafale aircraft for Rs 1,670 crore each.

“Yesterday, I met with French President @EmmanuelMacron. We discussed a range of issues common to our liberal democracies, including fake news. I look forward to building on this meeting and to collaborating with him on global challenges such as Climate Change,” Gandhi tweeted posting a picture with Singh and Macron later.

The inside story of Abhishek Singhvi’s RS nomination

How did Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi get the support of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee for his Rajya Sabha berth when she is talking about forming a ‘Federal Front’ minus the Congress? This was indeed a puzzle to many, more so to the Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao who is plugging for a non-BJP, non-Congress front.

Grapevine has it that it was a phone call from Sonia Gandhi, which clinched the issue. The West Bengal PCC chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had proposed the name of two apolitical persons to get CPI(M) support but this was rejected. Mamata was keen to ensure that the Congress and the comrades do not get together before the next Lok Sabha polls, and therefore she conveyed through the Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad that she would not mind supporting the Congress. Sonia Gandhi, who has good equations with the TMC chief saw the advantage and quickly suggested the name of Abhishek Singhvi. The eminent lawyer also has some Kolkata connections and Mamata also needs the services of a good lawyer for fighting her cases.

Interestingly, the Rajya Sabha elections also saw the emergence of Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, who she is grooming as the next chief minister, as the new power centre. Insiders say that it was he who chose the four Trinamool candidates for the elections to the Upper House — Nadimul Haque, who was re-nominated, Subhasish Chakraborty, Abir Biswas and Dr Santunu Sen. Haque is a journalist, Chakraborty is an advocate and Sen is a radiologist.

Barring Congress, all other parties offered RS berth to Jaya

It was Dimple Yadav, MP and wife of Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, who was instrumental in renominating Jaya Bachchan for the Rajya Sabha. Although the Bachchans have a good relationship with the SP leadership, including Mulayam Singh Yadav, it was a little tricky this time because the SP would get only one seat and there were many claimants. Piqued by the denial of a ticket, another leader Naresh Agarwal has left the party and joined the BJP.

However, Jaya had another unexpected patron. It was the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Jaya is a Bengali by birth and Mamata has not forgotten that. So she had also offered a Rajya Sabha berth to Jaya. When Akhilesh, who is in constant touch with Didi, called her and told her that the SP would field her a few days ago, Mamata dropped the idea. Jaya claims that except Congress almost all other parties had offered a berth.

Crèche for women journalists soon

Information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani has taken journalists by surprise by taking an initiative to set up a crèche for women journalists, which will be located in the National Media Centre in New Delhi. No doubt it will be a welcome step for those journalists who have no one to leave their children with.

Another interesting step is that she has increased the allocation for the journalist welfare fund to Rs 1 crore from the earlier RS 20 lakh. The fund helps those whose families need immediate help; or journalists who are suffering from serious health problems.

While these are welcome steps, senior journalists were apprehensive about the continuation of a category known as ‘long and distinguished service’ for government accreditation. Since even the Press Accreditation committee is divided over this, the Press Information Bureau has sent its recommendation to the ministry. The PIB is of the view that this category could be called ‘veteran journalist’ instead of ‘long and distinguished service’ because just experience alone does not mean they are distinguished. The minister has to take a decision once the file reaches her.

The Rs 120 that is so dear to Rajani Patil

Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra Rajani Patil was in seventh heaven after Sonia Gandhi took her in her car to assuage the MP who had been denied a Rajya Sabha berth. The Gandhis know how to deal with miffed party leaders.

The interesting thing was that since Patil went with Sonia Gandhi, suddenly leaving her handbag in the Central Hall of Parliament and asking former minister Kumari Selja to guard it, she had no money to get back to Parliament. Seeing her plight, Sonia Gandhi asked her driver to give her some money, as netas don’t usually carry cash. Now, Patil is treasuring the Rs 120 given by Sonia Gandhi and is showing it off to her friends. She went to the AICC headquarters next door, sat and chatted with Mukul Wasnik, another Congress leader from her state and went back to Parliament in a Parliament Ferry car.

Vinod Rai’s tenure in Banks Board Bureau to expire this month

The Banks Board Bureau (BBB), set up by the Modi government in February 2016, as a makeover platform, may effectively close down by the end of this month. The term of its chairman Vinod Rai, former CAG who was tasked with advising the government to enforce “a code of conduct and ethics for managerial personnel” in these banks, will also expire at the same time. Incidentally, the BBB could not do much. Grapevine has it that Rai, however, has no intention of giving up his other post — supervising cricket despite efforts to get rid of him by powerful lobbies. He is currently heading the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators to the BCCI.

Rai will turn 70 on 23 May. The old guard and the BCCI office-bearers are said to argue that since they are not allowed to hold office beyond the age of 70 as per the Justice Lodha committee’s recommendation, the same yardstick should be applicable to Rai. The officials might also use it as a pretext to continue in state associations. However, Lodha, the architect of the reforms, is not convinced with this logic and Rai is determined to complete the task given to him. It will be interesting to see whether the powerful cricket lobby will win ultimately.

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