Pema Khandu, the newly sworn-in Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, turned into an admirer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently, when he met the latter on Sunday. Khandu’s liking for Modi has nothing to do with the fact that he rebelled against the party to which he belongs, the Congress - he has since returned to the fold, taking charge of the state after former Arunachal Pradesh CM, and party colleague Nabam Tuki resigned from his position.
Khandu, after winning the confidence vote in Itanagar, came to Delhi on 24 July (Sunday) and sought appointments with top leaders of his party – president Sonia Gandhi, and vice-president Rahul Gandhi – and the Prime Minister, in that order. He got none, except with the prime minister on Sunday. (Editor's clarification: The All India Congress Committee has clarified that Rahul met Khandu on 25 July).
Once again, the impression of an inaccessible Congress president and vice-president got firmly entrenched among the leaders of Arunachal Pradesh. His meeting with Modi, on the other hand, went off quite well.
Khandu is not an exception. Far from it.
A close scrutiny of the prime minister's schedule would reveal details of meetings with Members of Parliament (MPs) cutting across party-lines, indicative of his punishing round the clock schedule.
When he is not in the House, he is engrossed in other meetings – it can be a Cabinet meeting, a Cabinet sub-committee meeting, a floor strategy meeting – and a large part of his schedule in Parliament this Budget session has been devoted to meeting MPs, regardless of their political affiliation.
Parliament observers recall that over the last many years, a meeting between the prime minister and the MPs only happened in a Janata Durbar type setting, where many gathered around the PM. Narendra Modi has changed that trend, and has been meeting MPs individually. He is also accessible to MPs across all parties, and often remains in the Parliament till late in the evening.
A routine day in Parliament begins with the daily briefing meeting with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Minister of Urban Development Venkaiah Naidu, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar, Minister for Transport Nitin Gadkari, and the ministers of state for Parliamentary affairs.
Then there are MPs who meet the prime minister to discuss the routine national, state and political issues.
During Parliament sessions, MPs can come to the prime minister’s chamber, and meet him to discuss important issues. Sources close to the PM said, “Time maybe given to five MPs/ministers per day but so many additional MPs stop by and meet the PM. He seldom says no to those coming.”
MPs who meet the PM are amazed at the manner in which he interacts. For those few minutes, all his attention is only on the conversation. No aides walking in, no phones ringing. “It feels very special that the PM is giving his full attention to us,” said a BJP MP, who also met the PM in Parliament. Due to the composition of the Parliament, it is obvious that more BJP MPs meet the prime minister.
Since the start of the monsoon session, BJP MP’s who have met the prime minister include, Harinarayan Rajbhar (MP from Ghosi in UP), Satish Gautam (MP from Aligarh), Udit Raj (Lok Sabha MP from North West Delhi) and Mahesh Girri (Lok Sabha MP from East Delhi).
Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP from West Bengal’s Bangaon Mamata Thakur also met the Prime Minister. National Democratic Alliance (NDA) MPs like Anant Geete (who is also a Union Minister) and Rajan Vichare from the Shiv Sena, Telugu Desam Party (TDP’s) Venkateswara Rao and Akali Dal’s Prem Chandumajra are among those from the ruling alliance, who have spent time with the Prime Minister.
From the Congress, KC Venugopal and some MPs from Kerala met the PM in Parliament. Venugopal, a former Union Minister, is one of the leading lights of the Congress legislative party in the current Lok Sabha and has been critical of the Prime Minister on every possible occasion. Another Congress MP from Kerala, Anto Antony, too met Modi along with Kerala Congress’ Jose Mani. PAC Chairperson KV Thomas too met the Prime Minister.
Earlier this year, the BJP and the NCP were sparring over the arrest of Chhagan Bhujbal, but that didn’t prevent a healthy and cordial meeting between Sharad Pawar and Narendra Modi in the Parliament during the first half of the Budget session. Another NCP MP, DP Tripathi, met the PM in the start of the monsoon session.
Samajwadi Party's (SP) Naresh Agarwal too met Narendra Modi. It may be recalled that in 2013, Agarwal had made scurrilous comments on Modi that had triggered a controversy. Anglo-Indian Lok Sabha MP George Baker met the Prime Minister to hand over a magazine related to the Anglo-Indian community. Newly nominated Rajya Sabha MPs Dr Subramanian Swamy and Suresh Gopi (with his family) have also met the Prime Minister.
INLD Rajya Sabha MP Ram Kumar Kashyap has met the Prime Minister at the start of the monsoon session.
Though the Prime Minister’s office keeps a detailed record and photographs of his meetings with MPs and senior political leaders, officials are particularly instructed to track the issues raised in these meetings.
Sources in the PMO say that all the issues that come up for discussion in these meetings get a rigorous follow-up by a dedicated team of officials, who have reconciled to the idea of having a gruelling schedule, right from the early morning.