Currying favour

Smriti Irani plans to use dinner diplomacy to beef up her drooping fortunes

Out of favour in the party and the government, the HRD minister is hoping to refurbish her image with a dinner at her residence for BJP MPs and their spouses.

Call it banquet diplomacy or call it a desperate attempt to refurbish her image. Union Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani, whose clout in both the government as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party has diminished noticeably in the last few weeks, is preparing to host a grand dinner for all the party MPs and their spouses early next week.

Though the event is being organised at the behest of the Kamal Sakhi Manch, an informal body of BJP’s women parliamentarians and wives of its male MPs, insiders believe Irani’s enthusiasm for it indicates an anxious desire to arrest her declining influence in the ruling dispensation and improve her ties with the saffron party’s parliamentarians.

Not only has the invitation been sent on the official letterhead of Irani, but the banquet has also been planned in a way that would allow the minister to remain the focus of the event. As per the invitation, the dinner at Irani’s 28 Tughlak Crescent residence on April 28 will be preceded by a two-hour discussion on “initiative taken by the Ministry of Human Resource Development on programmes like Swachh Vidyalaya, Swayam, Udaan, etc”.

Until the announcement of this event, the Kamal Sakhi Manch had been an inconspicuous body. Meant to promote family relations among parliamentarians, it has rarely been used as a forum for an image makeover, said BJP leaders.

Rapidly falling stock

Irani’s initiative comes at a time when the scales have tipped against her in the party and the government. Not long ago, she was seen as a favourite of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially since she was given the charge of the HRD ministry despite her defeat in the Lok Sabha election from Amethi. But things have changed.

About a month ago, Irani, was unceremoniously dropped from the BJP’s national executive by party president Amit Shah. More recently, she received a snub from the Prime Minister’s Office as it blocked Irani’s decision to appoint Sanjay Kachru as her Officer on Special Duty. The axe fell just before Kachru was expecting the confirmation letter from the Department of Personnel and Training for the appointment, highly-placed officials said.

At the same time, there is speculation that Irani might either be dropped from the cabinet or, at the very least, be shifted to a more low-profile ministry in the next reshuffle that is likely to happen after the Budget session of Parliament.

Most party leaders are said to have problems with the HRD Minister, either because of the way she treats the senior BJP leadership or due to her unresponsiveness to their requests for appointments.

Aware of her falling stock, Irani has been seen as making zealous efforts at improving her image, including by giving a series of interviews to media houses over the last few days. Her latest initiative to host a dinner for party MPs and their spouses is viewed as part of this exercise.

It remains to be seen whether Irani’s dinner diplomacy will help her improve ties with party MPs and revive her diminishing clout. But before that, what will be more interesting to watch is whether all the MPs actually turn up for the dinner.

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