There was a new spring in the steps of the opposition MPs in Parliament this week after the BJP’s crushing defeat in the Rajasthan bypolls. Several opposition MPs predicted that at best the BJP could hope to win no more than 220 seats in 2019; which meant Narendra Modi would not be prime minister. Curiously, the Congress MPs do not believe that Rahul Gandhi would make it as prime minister either. A prominent UPA MP brashly asserted that neither Modi nor Rahul, Mamata Banerjee or Naveen Patnaik would be the next PM. A leading Congress leader even suggested that a less autocratic and more affable BJP leader, such as Rajnath Singh, could be acceptable to potential allies in case of a hung parliament, that Modi could form the government only if the BJP wins at least 240 seats on its own. Sonia Gandhi, when asked her views on the 2019 scenario, wisely refrained from commenting at this early stage.
New power centre
Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the amiable Madhya Pradesh chief minister, had no problem getting on with three state governors who belonged to opposition parties, Balram Jakhar, Rameshwar Thakur and Ram Naresh Yadav. But the relationship seems less cordial with the new governor Anandiben Patel, who is from the BJP. The former Gujarat CM seems to be emerging as a parallel power centre. Her entry into Madhya Pradesh was a political statement in itself. She took a bus from Ahmedabad to Bhopal along with over a dozen friends and relatives. She was felicitated on both sides of the border by Patidar groups, who have been agitating for OBC status. In an unusual move, Patel has asked all heads of departments of the state to make presentations of their portfolios to her. Recently, when she visited Delhi, the resident commissioner was in a tizzy and at pains to ensure that her stay at Madhya Pradesh Bhawan was comfortable. So much so that a delegation visited the nearby Gujarat Bhawan to find out Patel’s likes and dislikes and requisitioned a cook from Gujarat Bhawan for her. No such overzealous concern was displayed for earlier governors.
Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot came to Parliament this week, for the first time since his defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. His return was understandably triumphant since his party had won decisively in two parliamentary and one Assembly by-election in the state. Former Congress chief minister Ashok Gehlot cannot hide his pique that Pilot, who has spent the last four years working at the grassroots, should garner all the credit for the victory. His comments to the media were pointed. Himself party general secretary in charge of Gujarat, he remarked that the Gujarat results had paved the way for the Rajasthan victory. He also commented that state pradesh chiefs should not be misled by a few journalists into imagining that they were automatic chief ministerial choices. Gehlot’s followers have started raising the slogan “Chief minister kaisa ho, Ashok Gehlot jaisa ho’’. They also suggest that Pilot cannot be a CM candidate since he is a Gujjar and the Meena community will automatically oppose him, due to rivalry over reservations. The results of the state panchayat polls held two years back, however, suggest that the Gujjar-Meena rift has been put to rest. In eastern Rajasthan, where a majority of Gujjars and Meenas live, the Congress won control of all the zila parishads in Dausa, Karauli, Alwar, Bundi, Sawai Madhopur and Kota.
Jay Panda has been criticising for quite a while a serving officer in Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s Secretariat, who is believed to calls the shots in both the BJD and state government. Few in the state have any doubt that Panda has been hinting at VK Pandian, Patnaik’s all-powerful private secretary. Still, it took a while for the BJD to actually get around to suspending Panda. The timing of the suspension was aimed at diverting attention from the suicide of an alleged 14-year-old rape victim in Koraput district. The police are accused of trying to intimidate her into taking back her statement instead of taking cognizance of her complaint. It was on January 22, when a private university was felicitating Naveen Patnaik, bestowing on him the ‘Ideal Chief Minister’ award, that the news broke of the young girl’s suicide. The BJP and Congress now accuse the state government of culpability in her death, making it a major political issue.