Sonia Gandhi has after many months begun to play a more active role in politics. Since her return from abroad after a medical check-up, Sonia has met several opposition leaders, including Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar and D Raja. The ostensible reason for the talks is the choice of a common presidential candidate to contest against the NDA’s nominee. But the recent talks with opposition leaders are more about trying to sew up a Mahagathbandhan against the BJP in time for the 2019 parliamentary elections. The proposal is that Sonia would be the chairperson of the alliance and Nitish Kumar the convenor. This would effectively make Nitish the opposition candidate for PM in 2019. Which also effectively suggests a vote of no-confidence in Rahul Gandhi.
Pride led to fall
The rift within the Samajwadi Party first family has not been resolved. While Parliament was in session, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sonia Gandhi happened to enter the House together and both stopped to sign the attendance register. Mulayam turned to Sonia and remarked ruefully that their joint defeat in Uttar Pradesh was because of ghamand (arrogance)—a clear inference that it was the arrogance of his son who sidelined him and which caused the defeat. Akhilesh, meanwhile, is not sitting pretty. He is busy meeting different OBC groups to bring them back into the fold. He realises the BJP garnered the biggest share of the non-Yadav OBC vote.
An interesting footnote from the much discussed Nanavati case of 1959, when Naval commander KM Nanavati shot his wife’s lover, Prem Ahuja, is that lawyer Ram Jethmalani claims to have played a key role in securing both Nanavati’s conviction and release, though he never uttered a word in court. An unknown junior lawyer at that time, Jethmalani was hired by the victim’s sister, Mamie, merely to act as an observer for the prosecution and had no official role. However, in an interview to journalist Bachi Karkaria in her soon-to-be-released book, In Hot Blood, he asserts that it was he who alerted the prosecution that there was a basic flaw in the defence story.
Nanavati’s lawyer Karl Khandalavala claimed that Nanavati and Ahuja got into a scuffle in which the bullets were fired accidentally. Jethmalani pointed out that if this was indeed the case, then the towel which Ahuja had wrapped round himself when he came out of his bath would surely have fallen off. Jethmalani, a Sindhi belonging to the same community as the victim, was later used as an emissary to persuade Mamie not to object to the governor’s pardon for Nanavati within three years of his sentence. As quid pro quo, a Sindhi businessman, Bhai Pratap, said to have been unjustly convicted, would be pardoned at the same time.
State of alert
The Congress these days is perennially fearful that someone important in the party might defect to the BJP. Recently, the worry was that Kamal Nath, the longest serving parliamentarian in the country, might jump ship. It is known that Nath is unhappy that despite his seniority he was not named Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and that another Madhya Pradesh leader keeps attempting to undercut him. Nath is also annoyed that though he is general secretary in-charge of Haryana, his decisions are often overruled by the high command because Bhupinder Singh Hooda has the ear of the Gandhi family. But what really set alarm bells ringing in the party was the fact that Nath recently unveiled a large statue of Lord Hanuman on Hanuman Jayanti. Congresspersons feared that this sudden show of religiosity was for the benefit of the BJP. Nath has firmly denied the rumour. But now the latest buzz in the party is that a senior Rajya Sabha MP and lawyer has just registered a new political party. The MP has denied the rumour.
Vying for office
The camps of O Panneerselvam and EK Palaniswami are still jostling for the position of Tamil Nadu chief minister. A compromise formula proposed is that one will be made chief minister, the other party general secretary. But Panneerselvam, finding Palaniswami adamant on opposing his demand that VK Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran resign from the party, is now exploring other options as well. Panneerselvam recently met GK Vasan of the Tamil Maanila Congress and the two are working on a possible alliance with Vijayakanth’s DMDK, Ramadoss’s PMK, Vaiko’s MDMK and the state unit of the BJP. Panneerselvam’s strength is that though he only has a few legislators with him, the majority of the AIADMK cadres reportedly back him.