Though Rahul Gandhi is slated to take over as party president in early April, Sonia Gandhi may not withdraw completely from active politics. She could be appointed chairperson of the Congress parliamentary board and continue to play an advisory role. There is much curiosity in the party about the fate of Ahmed Patel, Sonia’s powerful political secretary, in a Rahul Gandhi dispensation. Rahul loyalists resent the fact that Patel has so far had the upper hand in many key appointments. They are keen to dismantle the working system put in place by Patel. The old guard in the party continues to wield clout judging by the recent changes in the Pradesh Congress Committee chiefs. Most of the newly named PCC heads are close to 10 Janpath. True, Delhi PCC chief Ajay Maken is a Rahul Gandhi loyalist but he has lost his position as general secretary of the AICC and head of the media cell.
Her detractors have mocked her lack of academic credentials, but the staff in the HRD ministry are amazed by Smriti Irani’s extraordinary memory. Once she has read a file, she can recite intricate details many months later. Irani says that her memory for telephone numbers is so sharp that sometimes her father would wake her up in the middle of the night to find out a number. She credits her memory training to her grandfather who worked in the navy and instructed her when she was a child of seven or 10 years to read all the newspapers and select the five most important topics of the day. She would then have to recount the day’s events to him. It was a very good learning experience which sharpened her memory and improved her general knowledge. It helped train her in politics and as a spokesperson of the party.
Parting of ways
Arvind Kejriwal is earning a reputation for biting the hand that feeds him. The ouster of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav was done at his insistence. Years ago, Kejriwal worked under Aruna Roy on the Right to Information campaign. Roy acted as his mentor and guide, recommended him for the Magsaysay Award and helped him when he started his NGO Parivartan. But later, he had a bitter fall-out with his mentor. Even those who were associated with Kejriwal in Parivartan, such as Anjali Bhardwaj and Panini Anand, have now left him. Kejriwal called Anna Hazare his guru during the Lokpal campaign which he exploited to become a nationally known figure. But he disregarded Hazare’s wishes not to join politics. When he formed the Aam Aadmi Party, the initial donation of R1 crore came from Shanti Bhushan. Bhushan’s son Prashant was largely responsible for conceptualising AAP and spreading its message. Several of the corruption exposes came from Prashant. Now Kejriwal’s supporters dismiss Prashant as just one of its 1,000 founder-members. Yogendra Yadav is another one-time ardent supporter-ideologue who enthusiastically campaigned for the party.
Heartburn in the House
Navneethakrishnan, AIADMK leader in the Rajya Sabha, received a harsh message from his leader Jayalalithaa, asking him to allow V Maitreyan, the deposed leader of the parliamentary party, to speak on the President’s address on behalf of the party as she was very annoyed about the poor performance of the AIADMK in the Upper House. Navneedharkrishnan has now admitted himself into a government hospital, reportedly for hypertension, but according to the party buzz, it’s because of the ‘humiliation’ he suffered. Navneethakrishnan, in his short spell as AIADMK Rajya Sabha leader, has not set an inspiring example. He was seen dozing during the President’s address. When asked to speak on the Vote of Thanks, he got up and tapped the mike and started calling out “hello, hello, testing, testing’’ to the amusement of the rest of the House. The informal language he used in his speech in the reply to the President’s address was reported by a Tamil newspaper and an angry Jayalalithaa asked for a full text of the speech and was appalled by its poor calibre.
BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, who has successfully wrapped up the deal with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir, has left for Sri Lanka on an unofficial preparatory trip for the Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka later this month. The media has commented on the stark contrast between the two negotiators for the BJP-PDP alliance: Madhav, a hardcore RSS prachark, and Haseeb Drabu, PDP MLA and an economist. Initially, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had chosen Muzaffar Baig to be his interlocutor with the BJP. But when Mufti discovered that Baig had met Narendra Modi on his own initiative, he became suspicious and deputed Drabu in his place. Baig is now sulking. In fact, before the BJP-PDP alliance came about, the BJP approached the NC on the possibility of a tie-up. But Omar Abdullah declined, confident that the PDP and BJP would never be able to sup together. At one stage, Mufti had a grand plan of a PDP-BJP-Congress alliance since he felt this would send a message to Pakistan about an evolving consensus on Kashmir. But the Congress refused to play ball.