Soon after the heads of the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech took veiled digs at each other publicly, the PMO intervened, directing the two vaccine manufacturers to issue a joint letter that they were coordinating in the fight against the pandemic.

The rivalry between the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech became open knowledge after the heads of both took veiled digs at each other publicly. The PMO immediately intervened, directing the two vaccine manufacturers to issue a joint letter that they were coordinating in the fight against the pandemic. It is unclear who was responsible for influencing the expert committee on vaccine approval to grant immediate clearance to Covaxin on January 2. Earlier, the minutes of the expert committee meeting reveal that Bharat Biotech was asked to first submit additional research data as the company had not completed its Phase III trials. Within a day, the panel re-convened to okay the vaccine. While Bharat Biotech has the Prime Minister’s blessings, the move to give its vaccine instantaneous clearance seems to have stemmed partly because of Subramanian Swamy’s embarrassing tweet that an Indian product was being accorded step-motherly treatment and ran counter to the RSS’s and Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign.

No Condolence Meet

It is over a month since Ahmed Patel’s death and excuses as to why the party has still not held a full condolence meeting at the national level sound lame. Rahul Gandhi’s prolonged stay out of India is cited as a reason, but there was no love lost between the Gandhi scion and Patel. Besides, the meeting could have easily been organised before he went abroad. The Congress, incidentally, is still to sort out its financial affairs after the death of its treasurer. Rahul’s deep suspicion of the old guard was evident at the meeting meant to humour the G-23 letter-writers. While Sonia and Priyanka were polite hosts, Rahul was offhand. He snubbed Kamal Nath by suggesting that he was not in control of his state as Chief Minister, and that Ashok Gehlot is equally unable to control the RSS-influenced bureaucrats who rule the roost in Rajasthan.

Some Cabinet Carpentry

Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent two-day visit to Mizoram was cancelled so that he could discuss Cabinet formation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The outcome of the talks was that the Cabinet expansion slated for January 14, Makar Sakranti, was postponed yet again till after the Budget. The reason is that the leadership is undecided whether Union Cabinet changes should involve merely long overdue inclusions, such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, or be a more extensive exercise.

The Rise of B L Santhosh

The recent BJP organisational re-shuffle which disempowered RSS pracharaks loaned to the BJP, such as Saudan Singh and V Satish, has highlighted the growing clout of B L Santhosh, party general secretary (organisation). Santhosh is a departure from the usual mould of former organisation general secretaries Ram Lal and Sanjay Joshi, who too were from the RSS fold. He does not act like a faceless, low-key backroom organiser but regularly tweets his hardcore Hindutva views. (On occasion he had to delete impulsive tweets on international affairs.) Unlike others from the RSS stable, such as Ram Madhav and Govindacharya, who lost out because of being too high profile, Santhosh seems confident of his position. He derives his strength not only from the ideological wing, but has a close working relationship with both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The BJP leadership turns to him for advice on South Indian politics and he was authorised to elevate some unknown faces with like-minded views.

A Caustic Farewell

Before his departure from India, US Ambassador Kenneth Juster laid the foundation stone for the new US Chancery building in New Delhi along with Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri and Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia. But uncertainty remains over the funding for the new structure. The US Congress presumes that the money will come from the auction of Lincoln House, the former US Chancery building in Mumbai. But though vaccine manufacturer Adar Poonawalla had emerged the top bidder in the auction held many years back, he has withheld full payment since he is unable to take possession due to inter-ministerial wrangling which has blocked the land’s transfer. Significantly, Juster cautioned in his farewell remarks that some policies of the government would deter foreign investment and trade.

This article first appeared in the print edition on January 17, 2021, under the title “PMO for Patch-Up”

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