Off the record

Gown with the wind

When President Pranab Mukherjee flew down to Patna to attend the second convocation ceremony of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) - Patna, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made an unusual request to do away with the custom of wearing gowns at convocations.

While addressing students, Nitish turned towards Pranab, with whom he shares a cordial relationship, and urged the President: “I am pleased with your decision to end the use of colonial sobriquets like ‘His Excellency’. Please do the needful to do away with the custom of wearing gowns during convocations too.”

Pranab, as per the customs, was also wearing a red gown and a square academic cap, while Nitish was in a blue gown.

The students clapped and cheered over Nitish’s suggestion while the President smiled over the unsolicited advice. Nitish suggested that students could instead be asked to wear a cap or pagdi during such occasions.

Notably, the President, shortly before visiting Bihar last year, where he attended the convocation of Lalit Narayan Mithila University at Darbhanga, had approved a new protocol for greeting dignitaries and asked everyone to end use of colonial era words like “His Excellency.”

One has to wait to see what he decides on wearing gowns at convocations.

Abhay Kumar, Patna

The UK connection

They are suave, flashy and youth icons. Both are prominent twitteratis, both are stylish and can be heart-throbs. The similarities do not end there -- both are born in the United Kingdom too. They are Minister of State of Human Resources Shashi Tharoor and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

This tiny bit of information was passed on in the social networking site Twitter by Tharoor. And his provocation was a “lovely profile” in The Telegraph, not the Indian one but published from London. “Congrats to the only UK-born CM from the Ony UK-born MoS,” wrote Tharoor in Twitter.

The profile says Abdullah was born in Rochford in Essex, where he started primary school and spent hours playing and cycling in nearby Hockley Wood. The Telegraph says his childhood memories and visits to grandparents in Lowestoft and other relatives have played a key part in shaping him as one of India's most influential young politicians – he is “almost as British as he is Indian”.

 “I'm probably the only chief minister who was born outside the country,” he said adding his British background had given him a “broader outlook on life” but it had disadvantages too. “There are those in my line of work who quite happily use this against me, and suggest because I wasn't born here, I have no business being in politics here,” he is quoted in The Telegraph.

Shemin Joy, New Delhi

Change in the offing

The Congress appears to have set in motion the process to rejig its team of spokespersons who often cut a sorry figure when compared with the suave leaders the BJP fields to interact with the media.

An indication of a revamp was evident when the Congress asked Haryana minister Randeep Singh Surjewala to brief the media on Friday.  Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who was forced out of the AICC Media department because of a sleaze CD, is also expected to be back at AICC briefings.

Both Surjewala and Singhvi are part of a team of Congress’ talking heads who appear regularly on news television channels. A Congress functionary did not rule out fielding Surjewala and a few others as AICC spokespersons.

Sagar Kulkarni, New Delhi

Antony tenure

Earlier this week, Defence Minister A K Antony became India’s longest serving defence minister as he completed seven years in his office in the South Block. The defence minister, known for his image as St Antony, was able to keep the defence ministry free from major corruption issues, took action against corrupt middle-men and yet was able to procure several imported high-value military hardware for the three services.

But the Army and the Air force are keenly looking at the remaining seven months of Antony’s tenure in UPA II government to see if there is any light for them at the end of the tunnel as they are critically short of artillery guns and fighter planes. All the three services are also hoping for his approval to buy new helicopters to replace the vintage fleet.
Kalyan Ray, New Delhi

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