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EDITORIALS

MP or a murderer?
Padamsinh Patil has brought shame to the new House
Sunday’s arrest of newly-elected MP from Osmanabad and former Maharashtra Home Minister Padamsinh Patil for the murder of his cousin and Congress leader Pawanraje Nimbalkar in June 2006 once again brings to the fore the pernicious presence of criminals in politics.

CPM in a spot
Kerala Governor’s order hits party’s image
Kerala Governor R.S. Gavai’s permission to the CBI to prosecute CPI (M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan in the SNC-Lavalin case involving charges of corruption in award of contracts when he was Power Minister in 1998, despite the CPM-led LDF government’s recommendation not to give such permission, has added a new dimension to the long-festering issue.


EARLIER STORIES

Arrest of a terrorist
June 8, 2009
Terror Down Under
June 7, 2009
Washington has erred
June 6, 2009
President speaks
June 5, 2009
Pak flexes muscles, again
June 4, 2009
Treading the beaten path
June 3, 2009
Friends, or foes?
June 2, 2009
Better days ahead
June 1, 2009
The fury of cyclone Aila
May 31, 2009
Tasks assigned
May 30, 2009
Team Manmohan
May 29, 2009
Lahore again
May 28, 2009


Step up vigilance
Swine flu should not spread
In the wake of the threat posed by the deadly swine flu, even when the WHO raised the alert level to its second highest-level, Phase Five, which means the pandemic is imminent; India had not reported a single case. However, today as the world remains in the critical Phase Five, fresh cases have taken the tally of the swine flu-affected in India to 10. India has also reported cases of human-to-human transmission. There are reasons enough for serious apprehensions if not for pressing the alarm button.
ARTICLE

Challenges ahead
Delivery system needs special care
by Jayshree Sengupta
ALL would agree that reviving the economy is the number one problem for the UPA government today. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said so himself. Fortunately for the government, the Indian economy has registered 6.7 per cent GDP growth at constant prices in 2008-09 which is better than expected performance.

MIDDLE

Betting on Betty
by Sudhamahi Regunathan
Archie Andrews came to India when reading comics was the worst crime a child could commit. Parents tirelessly shoved Shakespeare and Bronte under your nose instead. So Archie was most often the companion on the seat when you spent more hours reading the comic, impervious to people banging on the door and telling you they were getting late to work, while you pretended to have an upset tummy.

OPED

Bridging the divide
Obama tries to heal wounds of centuries
by Robert Fisk
Preacher, historian, economist, moralist, schoolteacher, critic, warrior, imam, emperor. Sometimes you even forgot Barack Obama was the President of the United States of America.

Delhi Durbar
Congress leaders felicitate Hooda
The consolidation of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s position within the Congress is easy to gauge, thanks to the electoral gains made by the party under his leadership in the state.

  • Moily takes a U-turn

  • Ambika Soni takes charge



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MP or a murderer?
Padamsinh Patil has brought shame to the new House

Sunday’s arrest of newly-elected MP from Osmanabad and former Maharashtra Home Minister Padamsinh Patil for the murder of his cousin and Congress leader Pawanraje Nimbalkar in June 2006 once again brings to the fore the pernicious presence of criminals in politics.

The fact that the accused, now an elected honourable Member of Parliament, belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), an important constituent of the UPA at the Centre, makes the issue even more serious. According to the CBI, the motive for murder was “revenge”. It is said that Patil conspired to kill Nimbalkar because of his rising popularity. Moreover, he was upset over Nimbalkar exposing malpractices in the sugar cooperative societies headed by him. His arrest does not bring credit to the newly-elected Lok Sabha.

Unfortunately, the number of criminals elected to Parliament and state legislatures has been steadily increasing despite the pleas by the judiciary, the Election Commission, the media and well-meaning organisations to check their increasing clout and influence. While there were 128 MPs with criminal records in the 14th Lok Sabha, their number has now risen to 153 in the new House. Even those with serious criminal records, there are now 72 MPs as against 55 in the previous House.

Though the Supreme Court has observed that politicians charged with criminal offences by the courts should not be allowed to contest elections, there has been no forward movement on this issue. The political parties have not bothered about the need to weed out the malcontents. 

The criminal justice system itself is slow and it takes years for the courts to convict a politician with criminal links. It would be better if criminals were weeded out at the entry level itself. Political parties should on their own refuse to give tickets to those with criminal antecedents to contest the elections.

The Manmohan Singh government should try for an all-party consensus to bar criminals — certainly those against whom charges have been framed by the courts — from contesting elections to Parliament and state legislatures.

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CPM in a spot
Kerala Governor’s order hits party’s image

Kerala Governor R.S. Gavai’s permission to the CBI to prosecute CPI (M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan in the SNC-Lavalin case involving charges of corruption in award of contracts when he was Power Minister in 1998, despite the CPM-led LDF government’s recommendation not to give such permission, has added a new dimension to the long-festering issue.

Normally, governors have been known to go by the State Government’s recommendation which in this case was based on the written advice given by the Advocate-General, but this case was distinctive because the prosecution was being sought against an important functionary of the main constituent in the ruling coalition. That Chief Minister Achutanandan had repeatedly taken potshots at Vijayan on corruption, despite the CPI(M) central leadership’s attempts to silence him, might also have weighed with the Governor in sanctioning the prosecution.

Clearly, the CPI(M) leadership erred in shielding Vijayan who was perceived by people at large to be not above board. It is no secret that Mr Achutanandan had struck a discordant note at a cabinet meeting last month when it decided to recommend against prosecution of Vijayan.

While all this revealed the division in CPI (M)’s ranks it took away the comfort level that Keralites had with the party and led to disastrous consequences for it in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The more the Central leadership of the party led by Prakash Karat stood by Vijayan, the more it angered the people. Mr Achutanandan’s own record of clean politics lent weight to his protestations, but were not of much help in the elections.

Indeed, the CPI (M) does not seem to have learnt any lessons from the public disenchantment. The least that it needed to do was to tell Vijayan to quit the party post, face prosecution and come out unscathed through the due process of law. Instead, it has adopted a defiant posture and has ruled out Vijayan’s resignation. Unless it mends its ways and backtracks, the party’s perilous course would predictably hit it hard even in the next assembly elections.

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Step up vigilance
Swine flu should not spread

In the wake of the threat posed by the deadly swine flu, even when the WHO raised the alert level to its second highest-level, Phase Five, which means the pandemic is imminent; India had not reported a single case. However, today as the world remains in the critical Phase Five, fresh cases have taken the tally of the swine flu-affected in India to 10. India has also reported cases of human-to-human transmission. There are reasons enough for serious apprehensions if not for pressing the alarm button.

Swine flu, a respiratory disease of pigs viewed as a major risk reminiscent of H5N1 avian flu, was initially detected in Mexico where it took a heavy toll on human life. Later, the flu spread to the US and then to Europe.

The WHO has reported nearly 21,940 confirmed cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection from 69 countries and 125 deaths till June 5. India, where swine flu made its entry nearly three weeks ago, has been taking preventive steps after the WHO sounded a global alert. Besides issuing a travel advisory and stocking up the medicines effective against the virus, it has also been screening passengers at 21 international airports. So far 1.3 million passengers have been screened.

While it is imperative that the infected patients are quarantined, there can be no letup in screening of inbound passengers. As was feared, air travel has become the easiest way for the virus to spread. The Health Minister, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, has asserted that there is no need to panic as India is fully prepared to tackle the spread of the virus.

Hopefully, he is right. The good news, however, is that Indian scientists have isolated the flu strain and may be able to create a vaccine against the virus. Meanwhile, both public heath officials and airport authorities need to be extra-vigilant.

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Thought for the Day

Power means not having to raise your voice. — George Will
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Corrections and clarifications

n In the letter “Bride burning deserves strict punishment” (June 6), the expression “hanged from the nearest lamppost” was wrongly attributed to Justice M. Katju of the Supreme Court. Justice Katju had only said that the bride killer should be hanged. The words “hanged from the nearest lamppost” were used by Jawaharlal Nehru before Independence about the corrupt.

n In the report “PM’s offer to Sangma” (Page 1, June 6), the word mainstream has been broken up into two words ‘main stream’, which is wrong.

n In the report “Gilani calls for resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue” (Page 19, June 6) the word policy has been mis-spelt as police in the second para.

n In the report from Islamabad on a blast outside police centre ( Page 13, June 8 ), it should have read: “he scaled its rear wall”, instead of “it rear wall”.

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them.

We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error. We will carry corrections and clarifications, wherever necessary, every Tuesday & Friday.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Uttam Sengupta, Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is uttamsengupta@tribunemail.com.

—H.K. Dua, Editor-in-Chief

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Challenges ahead
Delivery system needs special care
by Jayshree Sengupta

ALL would agree that reviving the economy is the number one problem for the UPA government today. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said so himself. Fortunately for the government, the Indian economy has registered 6.7 per cent GDP growth at constant prices in 2008-09 which is better than expected performance.

It is clearly the result of the Pay Commission rewards and the growth of community, social and personal services. Government services grew rapidly in the last two quarters (22.5 per cent in Q3 and 12.5 per cent in Q4). Government spending also propped up growth which rose by more than 20 per cent as against 7.4 per cent in 2007-08.

Private consumption expenditure or household spending and gross capital formation, however, slowed. Company results also look less rosy. A recent survey of 1200 companies by Business Standard for 2008-09 reveals that companies across a range of sectors continue to do badly with declining and stagnant sales and with profit margins under pressure.

It shows poor demand for many products and services and growth in sales by only 6 per cent. Profits also dropped by 13 per cent over the last one year. Some companies are doing well, specially in power and automobiles, but not in steel and construction.

Core sector growth, on the other hand, has picked up which is good news. Power, crude oil, refinery products, coal, cement and finished steel grew at 4.3 per cent on a year-to-year basis (from April-March 2007-08 to April-March 2008-09). This means the industrial growth which had been shrinking may pick up soon as the core sector industries have a combined weight of 26.7 per cent in the index of industrial production.

Exports have been reduced by 33.2 per cent in April and there has to be a package for exporters, especially the labour-intensive sectors in manufacturing. Job losses in the export sector are a major problem today and retraining facilities have to be in place to enable retrenched labour find new jobs, specially in the unorganised sector.

On the manufacturing front, there is some good news from the latest revised data — manufacturing actually grew by 0.9 per cent in Q3 instead of contracting. Clearly, the fiscal stimulus provided by the government and election spending is having a positive effect on the demand but by how much is difficult to assess. But there is clear slowing down of investment, and even foreign direct investment inflows have been hit — only $2 billion came in March as compared to $4.4 billion the same month a year ago.

One can argue that in a difficult global climate, the fall is inevitable but the complaints about the difficulties of entering the Indian market have become more vociferous. It is time to examine the glitches and to improve the performance of the bureaucracy, supposed to be the slowest in the world.

On the monetary policy side, the government has taken plenty of action on the liquidity and interest rate fronts. It is up to the banks to start lending more to industry. On the fiscal side, everyone expects another stimulus package though it would clash with expectations of some fiscal consolidation because the combined fiscal deficit of 11 per cent is too large and the “crowding out effect” on private investment that will ensue is not a good idea at this juncture.

There is hope that the government would undertake disinvestment and raise Rs 100,000 crore which would be useful in financing the deficit. The President’s speech to Parliament on June 4 promises that 51 per cent of government equity will be maintained. Goods and services tax has also been promised by her.

There is the fear of inflation because of the enormous amount of liquidity in the system and because of the rise in global commodity prices as China has entered the world commodity markets in a big way for its stockpiling. Food prices too remain an enigma because with inflation at a record low, the prices of food items as reflected in the Consumer Price Index are still high. For the very poor, the President has promised 25 kilograms of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 a kilogram!

Everyone would also agree that infrastructure remains one of the weakest spots in the economy. There is a huge shortage of cheap housing for the poor and the roads network is far from satisfactory. Availability of water, especially of safe drinking water, remains a huge challenge.

In the summer months the national Capital has many areas without water and power and so also many big cities and towns. The roads, too, are in a pitiable state in the Capital’s suburbs. Providing sanitation and proper disposal of solid waste is an important task ahead.

A recent World Bank report has predicted that a quarter of India’s population would be living on $1.25 a day in 2015. This is an ominous warning for a country with a battery of anti-poverty programmes in place. Obviously, what is missing is an effective delivery system and good governance with special emphasis on education and health of the poor.

Another important task would be to raise the level of consumer confidence among people which, according to a global survey (Nielson Global Consumer Confidence Index), Indian consumers are not very confident about the prospect of India coming out of the current slowdown soon. FICCI, however, feels that Indians are regaining their confidence back slowly and are optimistic about the future prospect of their businesses.

The stock market also has been picking up, breaching the 15000 mark and there is optimism that if there is disinvestment also taking place, Sensex would rise faster giving relief to industry and small investors whose savings have been put in mutual funds.

Agriculture also has to be revamped though there has been a bumper wheat harvest and, fortunately, the contraction of output was much less at 0.8 per cent as compared to the previous estimate of a 2.2 per cent fall. Agriculture has to be put on a higher growth path of 4 per cent and India should aim at self-sufficiency in food. The government has already spent Rs 65,000 crore on loan waivers and now it has to step up public investment in rural infrastructure in order to make agriculture profitable for small and medium farmers.

Raising agricultural growth will have the additional benefit of raising rural demand for goods and services. It is the rural demand which has led to the growth in demand for durable consumer goods. Better targeted fertiliser subsidies are important as this type of subsidy is a source of the highest amount of leakage which India can now ill afford.

Despite the optimistic note and the promise of a stable government that the UPA has started with, there are many important things to be done and the expectations are even greater this time. Also important are the internal and external security issues and how the government tackles the Naxalite problem.

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Betting on Betty
by Sudhamahi Regunathan

Archie Andrews came to India when reading comics was the worst crime a child could commit. Parents tirelessly shoved Shakespeare and Bronte under your nose instead. So Archie was most often the companion on the seat when you spent more hours reading the comic, impervious to people banging on the door and telling you they were getting late to work, while you pretended to have an upset tummy.

Archie had two girlfriends; Betty was a nicer person than Veronica…one could identify with her. Veronica was so rich…do boys prefer rich girls? Jughead was the best…and the burger he used to eat all the time was not so easily available in India those days… Mr Weatherbee, the principal of Archie’s school was typical.

One Mr Das was appointed as the physics teacher in our school. He was new to Delhi and was quite shocked by the way girls spoke and shouted in the capital city. One day he was asking questions randomly and came to the desk where I sat with my friend.

As he picked up the textbook to quiz me, he found the edge of an Archie comic peeping out and with a little careless handling that comic book fell out. The cover showed many hearts and lips blowing out and Archie with his two loves Betty and Veronica in “revealing” clothes, and each of them trying to get closer to Archie.

Mr Das could not look me in the face. “I thought you were a good girl, “he said. “You come from a good family…. How many more such books do you have?” and he gestured to me to open my bag. Out came my treasures which with very honed trading skills I had collected from different friends.

One was worse than the other in Mr Das’s eyes. In those days we had not seen too many pictures of anyone in a bikini…and Veronica had so many of them much to Mr Das’s angst! The comics were of course confiscated.

Time moved on for all except that for Archie it moved slower. News is that he is graduating after 68 years and may even land a job and will get engaged on the 1st of September, 2009, in the 600th issue. The question remains the same: who will he marry…Betty or Veronica?

The phones have been ringing nonstop. Age has dropped by on the wayside…the peer, some with grandchildren in tow, yet others in stiff collars are pulling their hair wondering who the girl will be. Betty is still the first choice, but now you also feel bad for Veronica…and you know life needs money to be lived!

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Bridging the divide
Obama tries to heal wounds of centuries
by Robert Fisk

Preacher, historian, economist, moralist, schoolteacher, critic, warrior, imam, emperor. Sometimes you even forgot Barack Obama was the President of the United States of America.

Will his lecture to a carefully chosen audience at Cairo University “re-imagine the world” and heal the wounds of centuries between Muslims and Christians? Will it resolve the Arab-Israeli tragedy after more than 60 years? If words could do the job, perhaps...

It was a clever speech we heard from Obama last week, as gentle and as ruthless as any audience could wish for – and we were all his audience. He praised Islam. He loved Islam. He admired Islam. He loved Christianity. And he admired America. Did we know that there were seven million Muslims in America, that there were mosques in every state of the Union, that Morocco was the first nation to recognise the United States and that our duty is to fight against stereotypes of Muslims just as Muslims must fight against stereotypes of America?

But much of the truth was there, albeit softened to avoid hurting feelings in Israel. To deny the facts of the Jewish Holocaust was “baseless, ignorant and hateful”, he said, a remark obviously aimed at Iran. And Israel deserved security and “Palestinians must abandon violence...”

The United States demanded a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He told the Israelis there had to be a total end to their colonisation in the West Bank. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.”

The Palestinians had suffered without a homeland. “The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable,” Obama said and the US would not turn its back on the “legitimate Palestinian aspiration for a state of their own”. Israel had to take “concrete steps” to give the Palestinians progress in their daily lives as part of a road to peace.

Israel needed to acknowledge Palestinian suffering and the Palestinian right to exist. Wow. Not for a generation has Israel had to take this kind of criticism from a US President. It sounded like the end of the Zionist dream. Did George Bush ever exist?

Alas, he did. Indeed, at times, the Obama address sounded like the Bush General Repair Company, visiting the Muslim world to sweep up mountains of broken chandeliers and shredded flesh. The President of the United States – and this was awesome – admitted his country’s failures, its over-reaction to 9/11, its creation of Guantanamo which, Obama reminded us all again, he is closing down. Not bad, Obama...

We got to Iran. One state trying to acquire nuclear weapons would lead to a “dangerous path” for all of us, especially in the Middle East. We must prevent a nuclear arms race. But Iran as a nation must be treated with dignity. More extraordinarily, Obama reminded us that the US had connived to overthrow the democratically elected Mossadeq government of Iran in the Fifties. It was “hard to overcome decades of distrust”.

There was more; democracy, women’s rights, the economy, a few good quotes from the Koran (“Whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind”.) Governments must respect “all their people” and their minorities. He mentioned the Christian Copts of Egypt; even the Christian Maronites of Lebanon got a look in.

And when Obama said that some governments, “once in power, are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others”, there was a roar of applause from the supposedly obedient audience. No wonder the Egyptian government wanted to select which bits of Obama’s speech would be suitable for the Egyptian people. They were clearly very, very unhappy with the police-state regime of Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, Obama did not once mention Mubarak’s name.

Over and again, one kept saying to oneself: Obama hasn’t mentioned Iraq – and then he did (“a war of choice... our combat brigades will be leaving”). But he hasn’t mentioned Afghanistan – and then he did (“we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan... we will gladly bring every one of our troops home”).

When he started talking about the “coalition of 46 countries” in Afghanistan – a very dodgy statistic – he began to sound like his predecessor. And here, of course, we encountered an inevitable problem. As the Palestinian intellectual Marwan Bishara pointed out yesterday, it is easy to be “dazzled” by presidents. This was a dazzling performance. But if one searched the text, there were things missing.

There was no mention – during or after his kindly excoriation of Iran – of Israel’s estimated 264 nuclear warheads. He admonished the Palestinians for their violence – for “shooting rockets at sleeping children or blowing up old women in a bus”. But there was no mention of Israel’s violence in Gaza, just of the “continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.

Nor was there a mention of Israel’s bombing of civilians in Lebanon, of its repeated invasions of Lebanon (17,500 dead in the 1982 invasion alone). Obama told Muslims not to live in the past, but cut the Israelis out of this. The Holocaust loomed out of his speech and he reminded us that he was going to the site of the Buchenwald concentration camp today.

For a man who is sending thousands more US troops into Afghanistan – a certain disaster-to-come in the eyes of Arabs and Westerners – there was something brazen about all this. When he talked about the debt that all Westerners owed to Islam – the “light of learning” in Andalusia, algebra, the magnetic compass, religious tolerance, it was like a cat being gently stroked before a visit to the vet.

And the vet, of course, lectured the Muslims on the dangers of extremism, on “cycles of suspicion and discord” – even if America and Islam shared “common principles” which turned out to be “justice, progress and the dignity of all human beings”.

There was one merciful omission: a speech of nearly 6,000 words did not include the lethal word “terror”. “Terror” or “terrorism” have become punctuation marks for every Israeli government and became part of the obscene grammar of the Bush era.

An intelligent guy, then, Obama. Not exactly Gettysburg. Not exactly Churchill, but not bad. One could only remember Churchill’s observations: “Words are easy and many, while great deeds are difficult and rare.”

— By arrangement with The Independent

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the co-operation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings. . . .

I do so recognising that change cannot happen overnight. No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex quesations that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. . . .


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Delhi Durbar
Congress leaders felicitate Hooda

The consolidation of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s position within the Congress is easy to gauge, thanks to the electoral gains made by the party under his leadership in the state.

In the past few days, he has been feted not only in his own state but also by a section of the Congressmen from Punjab.

At two separate functions in the national capital, Hooda’s growing prowess was visible. One was attended by some senior Congress leaders, heads of TV channels, leading media columnists and political commentators.

The other was hosted by former Punjab Finance Minister Surinder Singla at the India International Centre. Among those present were former PPCC chief Varinder Kataria, former Haryana minister Venod Sharma and sitting Punjab MLA Rana Gurmit Sodhi. A few Urdu couplets were recited by old timers to signify how Hooda had emerged as the “tallest leader” in Haryana.

Moily takes a U-turn

New Law Minister M Veerappa Moily has apparently taken a U-turn on the issue of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, an accused in the Bofors payoff case.

Soon after he assumed office, Mr Moily was asked about his predecessor, H R Bhardwaj, giving a clean chit to Quattrocchi. Moily said the government would make a “mid-course correction” if necessary and pointed out that the administration of justice was after all a dynamic process.

What he perhaps did not realise was that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had already defended the Law Ministry’s role in getting the “Q” name removed from Interpol’s “most wanted list.”

The PM has gone on record stating that there was a limit to harassing a person. Moily apparently gave an interview to a newspaper later in the day, endorsing his predecessor’s action and thus putting the record straight.

Ambika Soni takes charge

The new I & B Minister, Ambika Soni, could not take charge of her office at Shastri Bhavan last week. The reason: the minister’s room was not ready.

Everyone in the ministry was expecting that Anand Sharma would be retained in the ministry with the Cabinet rank and the minister’s room was designed accordingly.

When the portfolios were announced, Anand Sharma, much to his pleasant surprise, found that he had been shifted to Udyog Bhavan as the Commerce and Industry Minister.

Name plates of the new I & B Minister were hastily arranged but it took some time to rearrange her room. She finally took charge on Monday.

Contributed by Ajay Banerjee, R Sedhuraman and Ashok Tuteja

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