President Ram Nath Kovind is said to be excited about the new VVIP Air India One aircraft, equipped with the latest features, including a sophisticated defence system and audio/video communications. Its plush interiors with conference rooms and suites are reportedly on a par with the US President’s Air Force One. Kovind was keen to try out the aircraft dedicated for the exclusive use of the President, Prime Minister and Vice President, and went on the inaugural flight. The aircraft landed in Chennai and the President travelled to Tirupati in a helicopter. PM Modi has yet to use the aircraft and is reportedly waiting till he flies abroad.
All Doors Open
There is major churning on in talks for Tamil Nadu’s Assembly polls to be held next year. The DMK’s M K Stalin is said to be discussing the possibility of an alliance with S Ramadoss’s PMK. If the alliance were to materialise, then Dalit leader Thirumavalavan of the VCK would walk out of the DMK camp. His preference would be a joint front with the Congress and Kamal Haasan’s party. The snag is that Rahul Gandhi is unlikely to abandon the DMK, even if the Congress is allotted a humiliating number of seats. Another option for the VCK is to join hands with Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, a move which could damage the DMK. The AIADMK, meanwhile, is planning a tie-up with the BJP and actor Vijayakanth’s DMDK. The key question of course is with whom superstar Rajinikanth ties up. As a Tamil Nadu politician put it, “All doors are open at this juncture.”
Filling his Shoes
The Congress faces a tough time finding a suitable replacement for Ahmed Patel. Pawan Bansal may have been appointed interim treasurer, but Patel’s role was far more wide-ranging. He was a key intermediary between Congresspersons and the Gandhi family. When Congressmen sought time to meet Sonia Gandhi, she invariably suggested they speak to Patel, rarely directing them to Rahul. No senior party leader has Patel’s invaluable attributes. Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath are considered possible replacements, but both have their drawbacks. Gehlot’s organisational contacts and accessibility give him an edge, but he has little connect with other political parties and the Mumbai business world, the latter being Nath’s strength. Nath’s drawback is his lack of approachability. Also, Gehlot will resist any suggestion to step down as Rajasthan Chief Minister. Indeed, he has so far refused to relinquish any of his nine ministerial portfolios, although asked to do so by a three-member committee, which included Patel. A third contender is Karnataka leader D K Shivakumar, who is adept at fundraising.
In the last fortnight of November, senior MP Ahmed Patel, former CM Tarun Gogoi, and Rajasthan MLA Kiran Maheshwari died of post-Covid complications. That marks a worryingly high mortality rate among VIP politicians. To date, at least four MPs and eight MLAs have died after testing Covid positive, apart from other known names in the political world. The list of fatalities includes former President Pranab Mukherjee, Union MoS for Railways Suresh Angadi, UP ministers Chetan Chauhan and Kamal Rani Varun, former RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, former Central minister from Leh P Namgyal and former Goa health minister Suresh Amonkar. Even Central ministers Amit Shah and Dharmendra Pradhan have had protracted post- Covid complications. A Covid-19 specialist believes the reason could be political leaders plunging straight away into normal activity after recovery, instead of taking it easy for six weeks.
The Haryana Police was told to prevent the Kisan brigade, travelling in tractors and buses, from reaching Delhi. Their hands were tied though, as they were ordered not to use strong-arm measures. The police resorted to water cannons and tear gas, but the farmers simply retreated and then re-grouped. The Haryana Police’s only recourse was to erect blockades along the road with heavy-duty cranes and seemingly insurmountable iron barricades. But the well-prepared farmer organisations came armed with implements and accompanied by trained mechanics and successfully cleared the roads. A police officer claimed that while they could not prevent the farmers eventually reaching the Delhi border, they managed to slow down the march.
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