Beginning his reign
The first major unilateral and highly political decision of Rahul Gandhi after taking over as Congress president was to tweet in support of the Dalit agitation at Bhima Koregaon and charge the BJP-RSS for fascist vision. Gandhi’s fiery tweet, more than 24 hours after the incident, took senior party leaders in Maharashtra by total surprise, since the state party leadership had already agreed that the wisest course would be to not take sides. Ranged against the Dalits, in the historic 200-year-old battle, were the powerful Maratha and Brahmin communities. The issue is doubly sensitive since the victory being celebrated is the decisive defeat of the Peshwas by the British, even if helped by Mahar regiments. Congress leaders in Maharashtra and Gujarat apprehend that Rahul was egged on by the newly elected Independent MLA Jignesh Mewani, who is fond of displaying the many WhatsApp messages he exchanges with the Congress president. Mewani’s impulsiveness is worrying for state Congress leaders, who apprehend the undue influence of outsiders in the party. Alpesh Thakor, a newcomer to the Congress and also a WhatsApp friend of Rahul Gandhi’s, was persuaded by his new party colleagues to tweet that Mewani should consider before he speaks.
Kissa kursi ka
At Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani’s first press conference after being sworn in, there was an embarrassing moment as Deputy CM Nitin Patel’s swivel chair was much lower than Rupani’s. After Patel protested and started fiddling with his chair, the CM ordered his staff to raise the level of Patel’s chair. The chair incident was hilarious since it reflected the ongoing behind-the-scenes tussle between the CM and his deputy. Arrayed on one side are the CM and Amit Shah from the trader community (Vaniyas of Gujarat) and on the other, Nitin Patel and his biradiri of Patels, including former CM Anandiben Patel, who was instrumental in his installation as deputy CM after she was removed as CM. Shah thought that it would be a simple matter to dispossess Nitin of the finance portfolio. But he found himself checkmated. Some 30% of the BJP’s 99 MLAs are Patels. Speculation continues over whether the pragmatic Vaniyas, who, as the old proverb goes, don’t mind lowering their moustaches provided they have the last word, or the assertive Patels, who keep their moustaches high, will emerge as victors in the power struggle. Meanwhile, K Kailashnathan, formerly Modi’s trusted aide when he was Gujarat CM, was slated to come to Delhi after the Assembly polls. But he will now continue in Gujarat in a post-retirement position as chief principal secretary. Kailashnathan, an IAS officer from Kerala, is likely to be a major power centre.
Trying to make peace
To the surprise of finance minister Arun Jaitley, Punjab’s tourism minister Navjot Singh Sidhu turned up at his office without any prior appointment on his birthday and touched Jaitley’s feet. The two men had a bitter fall-out over the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat. Before the Punjab polls, a disgruntled Sidhu joined the Congress. Sidhu perhaps wants to send a message to Punjab CM Amarinder Singh that he is unhappy. But Singh is unconcerned; he had always warned his party of Sidhu’s ‘unreliability’.
No merging tracks
Railway minister Piyush Goyal’s recent meeting with JD(S) president Deve Gowda sent alarm bells ringing in the Congress, which feared that the BJP might be trying to reach an understanding with Gowda over seat sharing in Karnataka. Goyal dismisses the rumours. He claims that Gowda had asked for an appointment to meet him over some railway routes. Goyal felt that it was only proper that he should call on the former prime minister, rather than the latter coming to meet him. Still, the photographs of the two did give rise to speculation.
Maharashtra prides itself on being one of the most progressive states in the country, but strangely, not a single woman IAS officer has broken the glass ceiling and been appointed chief secretary. With Maharashtra’s current chief secretary Sumit Mullick set to leave, the post should go to additional chief secretary Medha Gadgil, who is next in seniority. But Devendra Fadnavis’s government is planning instead to promote her junior, DK Jain. Gadgil’s handicap is that she is the daughter-in-law of the late veteran Congress parliamentarian Vitthalrao Gadgil. Earlier, IAS officer Chandra Iyengar also lost out. Then CM Ashok Chavan overlooked her claim because she was considered close to Sharad Pawar. In contrast, states such as Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, UP, Jharkhand, Himachal and Delhi have all had women chief secretaries.