Nora Chopra is a senior journalist with a finger on the pulse of the Indian political scene

Congress divided over insurance bill

The Congress is divided over helping the Narendra Modi government pass the Insurance Bill in this session of Parliament. Those who support insurance reforms include the party's deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, Jairam Ramesh and Rajiv Shukla. Those who oppose the reforms say that as an Opposition party, the Congress should not allow it to pass, at least in this session. Senior NDA ministers' cross-party connections are not helping the government as the Opposition is stopping the House from functioning over issues such as conversion of minorities to Hinduism. This is working in favour of those who oppose the bill. One amused anti-reform legislator was heard asking journalists, "How can they get the bill passed unless the House functions?"

Jaishankar likely to be Foreign Secretary

Will India's envoy to the US, S. Jaishankar, be named India's next foreign secretary? Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs claim that an announcement is expected to be made before 9 January, as he is due to retire on 8 January and foreign secretaries have a fixed term of two years. Current foreign secretary Sujatha Singh is due to retire in June 2015 but might get an extended tenure in some other position, in case Jaishankar takes over, in view of her good work.

Rahul searches for 'Minority' Chief for Youth Congress

The Youth Congress will soon have a new chief, most probably either a Muslim or a Sikh. Rahul Gandhi is focused on a minority candidate, in view of the upcoming Delhi Assembly elections. The party won a paltry eight seats in the last Assembly elections primarily because of minority support, which is now likely to falter, as Muslims in particular are all set to vote for AAP in the hope to stop the BJP. This is a matter of concern for the Congress. Names making the rounds include UP MLA Nadeem Javed, and Karnataka's Rizwan Arshad, who contested the Lok Sabha elections from Bangalore Central, but lost. Another possible candidate is Ravneet Singh Bittu, the young MP from Ludhiana. Bittu is the grandson of the late Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, who was assassinated by terrorists. The Congress thinks that the appointment of a Sikh could help it in Delhi, where it has been accused of a role in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. Current president Rajiv Satav is likely to get an All India Congress Committee post in the next reshuffle.

Joshi, Advani to get ministries

The BJP is considering giving L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi Cabinet-level posts. Joshi is being tipped to head the body that will replace the Planning Commission. The party is also considering options for Advani to match his stature. This will also justify their living in their ministerial bungalows for which they are not eligible as "ordinary" MPs. They have occupied these bungalows from the time they were ministers in the first NDA government. The UPA did not ask them to leave after it came to power.

Vijayakanth wants to be Chief Minister

Vijayakanth, the Tamil Nadu actor-turned-politician, whose DMDK is an NDA partner, wants to be the alliance's Chief Minister candidate in 2016 when the state goes to the elections. He has reportedly sought an assurance on this from the BJP leadership as a condition to supporting the party.

NCP wants LOP post in Maha

The Congress might face another setback in Maharashtra. Although it is the largest Opposition party, with 42 MLAs, it is under the threat of losing the post of Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. The NCP, which has one MLA less than the Congress, has staked claim for the post on the basis of a pre-poll alliance with the Bahujan Vikas Aaghadi, which has three MLAs. The NCP also claims to have the support of an Independent MLA. R.R. Patil of the NCP is being tipped for the LOP post. In the 78-member Legislative Council, the NCP anyway has 28 seats and the Congress has 22, so the LOP seat there too will not go to the Congress.

Q Shop in trouble

Questions are being raised about the future of Sahara Q shop, which has 1,300 outlets, including 800 run by franchisees, and nearly 1,400 staff. But with Sahara in financial trouble, there is speculation that Q shop may have to face closure in the coming months.

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