Who will get to keep the gunmen, who will not


New Delhi : After the government sought to assure senior leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Murli Manohar Joshi that there would be no scaling down of their security cover, former bureaucrats and ministers have been lobbying to ensure that their security too remains untouched.

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Around 400 VIPs are being provided with security cover in Delhi. Many in the list include politicians, former bureaucrats, judges, religious leaders, lawyers, ministers and a few journalists. Many of them have been enjoying top grade cover for years despite intelligence reports confirming there is no threat to their lives.

Sources say the review committee under Home Secretary G.K. Pillai has given a go ahead for lowering the security cover of many VIPs. Now the million-dollar-question is: Will the government actually whittle down their bodyguards?

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An invite, not an Air India boarding pass!

Journos on the aviation beat were surprised to see a formal invitation card for the first press conference of Arvind Jadhav, the chairman and managing director of Air India who took charge of the troubled carrier a couple of months ago.

Used to calls from the Air India media relations team for such events, scribes were taken aback over the terse wording of the invite. “As seating arrangements are limited, entry will be restricted to invitees only.”

Not just that, it wanted journalists to ensure they bring the card along and be seated by 4.15 p.m., as Jadhav was to address the media 15 minutes later.

Not only did scores of scribes turn up, all managed to get in. “It’s just an invite, not a boarding pass!” quipped one.


K-word out, B-word in

Now that some of the din and dust kicked up by the Sharm-el-Shaikh joint statement has settled, what is becoming clear is that considerable groundwork took place between the foreign ministries of India and Pakistan leading to the impugned two-page, 12-para note after their meeting on the sidelines of the non-aligned summit at the Egyptian desert resort.

The two foreign secretaries who were charged with the responsibility of drafting the joint statement came out twice with independent versions before they were asked by the two prime ministers to combine them into a joint one incorporating the views and sentiments of both sides. The statement that finally came out was cleared by Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani.

The incorporation of Balochistan was not considered particularly offending – even though it was appearing in a joint statement for the first time – because the subject had been discussed at bilateral talks at various levels in the past. Pakistan thought that if the exclusion of the K-word (Kashmir) was a concession by Islamabad, the inclusion of the B-word had to be a matching concession from New Delhi.


A daunting Nobel laureate

If a faux pas committed by Vice President Hamid Ansari in the presence of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is any indication, the latter is surely an overwhelming personality.

Ansari committed the gaffe while addressing a function organised to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Bar Association of India (BAI). Besides Sen, the event was attended by Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, eminent jurist and BAI president Fali S. Nariman and the top echelons of the judiciary.

In his opening remarks, Ansari described BAI as the Bar Council of India (BCI). While BCI is the country’s apex statutory body to regulate legal education, exercise disciplinary jurisdiction over lawyers and practice in the country, the BAI, set up by eminent jurist M.C. Setalvad, strives for the welfare of lawyers.

Ansari was quick to confess: “I’m too daunted by the presence of Nobel laureate Sen and a galaxy of other legal luminaries.”


Rising solar power, but flagging interest

Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah has established a reputation in the capital that he is not very interested in his portfolio, say insiders, though it includes the world’s most ambitious solar energy development plan.

Recently senior officials of an international organisation dealing with renewable energy sought a meeting with Abdullah but were told he would only meet the top honcho. The senior executive was flown in for the meeting but he went away with the impression that Abdullah was not giving him his wholehearted attention.

The upshot was that a bureaucrat was told to look into the proposal made by the organisation with the potential to improve India’s energy security manifold and move the country to a cleaner development path.


Patil turns two at Rashtrapati Bhavan

It was an event that passed by rather quietly – the day marking President Pratibha Devisingh Patil’s two years in office.

Officials at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace, even released a CD and an official communique to mark the occasion last month and how she has been working towards building a “compassionate and people-centric society”. But the media by and large failed to take notice of the event.

A day before she completed two years in the office, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called on her.


A little help from friends

That Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) politburo member Sitaram Yechury are close friends is known. But is there space for personal relations in an era of coalition politics?

Last week Chidambaram was have a light-hearted chat with Yechury in the lobby of parliament when he spotted Trinamool Congress leader, CPI-M baiter and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee coming round the corner rather hurriedly.

Chidambaram found himself in a piquant situation, especially as the Trinamool had been vociferous in the Lok Sabha about West Bengal being the country’s most violent state.

Sensing the home minister’s discomfort, Yechury did the vanishing act. Soon after, Chidambaram uttered his now infamous ‘killing fields’ of West Bengal speech.


Whither N-powered aircraft carrier?

Has Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chief Anil Kakodkar bitten off more than he can chew with his claim that India can build a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier? It would seem so.

As of now, Indian scientists have been able to develop just one 80 MW sea-borne reactor that will power the indigenous INS Arihant submarine that was launched into the waters last month and is scheduled to be inducted in the Indian Navy.

Knowledgeable military officers say the reactor has yet to be tested under ideal, let alone warlike, conditions. And assuming it is successful, it alone cannot power a nuclear carrier. Theoretically, two or three reactors in tandem can propel a carrier but that is still in the realm of possibility.

“We are not too sure of our capability of building a conventionally-powered aircraft carrier,” an officer quipped. The keel for India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier was laid in February and the vessel is due for induction in two years.


A room for Menon – will he be back?

While the official farewell took place in the last week of July, there is still a round of personal farewell parties being hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs and others for former foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon.

Despite the shadow of Sharm-el-Sheikh, Menon is in all likelihood to be back in an advisory role as he has asked for retention of his National Informatics Centre e-mail account.

A small room in the second floor of South Block has been designated for Menon, where he is likely to be an advisor on nuclear energy-related matters once he ends his two-month vacation.