Union home minister Rajnath Singh, who once saw Narendra Modi as a rival, seems to have worked out a comfortable understanding with both the Prime Minister and BJP president Amit Shah. This is unlike road transport & highways minister Nitin Gadkari, who remains the most independent of Modi’s top five ministers. Sometime ago, when Shah was asked about BJP rebels taking a viewpoint different from the party line, Shah’s response was that it was only when Modi, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and he himself spoke that it could be assumed that it was the party line. Significantly, Singh was the only senior Central minister, apart from Jaitley, to have campaigned for the party in Gujarat.
Impress, not repress
Whether it is the scare over the Gujarat elections or the coming Lok Sabha polls in 2019, both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah appear keen to mend fences with the media. Over the last 10 days, Modi, along with his media advisers in the party and PMO, has had separate interactions with the senior staff of two newspapers and two TV channels. More such meetings are being planned. Modi was amiable and accommodating and ready to answer all questions off-the-record. He even reminisced about his years as chief minister. Shah, who was earlier dismissive of newspersons and refused to meet them, has of late become more friendly and forthcoming.
Ways of the Raj
The imperial style of the Raj still prevails at Rashtrapati Bhavan. A recent RTI response to a Lucknow-based activist, Dr Nutan Thakur, who had enquired about the size of the Rashtrapati Bhavan staff, revealed the following: Some 540 personnel work in the Rashtrapati Bhavan household establishment alone. There are 28 cooks, including two chief cooks, one chief baker, one chief halwai; 32 butlers, including four head butlers; and 10 persons to polish the silver and brass. There are 19 washermen, including the chief laundry man, one tennis coach and two squash coaches. There are 37 drivers, 184 gardeners and 57 cleaners. Other staff members include four artistes, 13 museum assistants and two tractor drivers. The total salary bill for October 2017 was Rs 1.34 crore.
Pravin Togadia’s travails have brought into focus the fact that his once promising career is at a new low. At the VHP meet in Bhubaneswar last month, he discovered that his core following had deserted him and he may soon lose his position as international working president of the VHP. To add to his woes, he is dogged by numerous cases against him in different parts of the country for hate speeches. Togadia holds the PM responsible, and at Bhubaneswar, did not hide his bitterness towards Modi.
Back in the early Eighties, Modi and Togadia were the best of friends. The former was an anonymous RSS worker, and the latter a leading light of the VHP, who could attract a crowd of 50,000 at his meetings. But within little more than a decade, the tables were turned. Modi became a major power in Gujarat politics and by 2001, chief minister. Togadia nursed a grievance that as CM, Modi cut off the VHP’s sources of funding. During the recent Assembly campaign, Togadia, a Patidar, is believed to have backed the rebellion of his community against the state government. His final humiliation is that people now sometimes refer to Hardik Patel as the new Togadia.
When Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia attacked Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan while campaigning for the Kolaras Assembly by-election, it was not Chouhan but his 24-year-old son Kartikey who responded. He accused Scindia of low-level politics for calling for “an end to Kaurava rule”.
Kartikey is a prosperous agriculturist, who runs a dairy, and also a thriving florist, but it seems he will soon join his father’s profession. At Shivpuri, he addressed his first public rally, outside his father’s Budhni Assembly constituency. Of the 15 CMs of the state, the kin of only two, P C Sethi and Kailash Nath Katju, have kept away from politics. Kartikey is still too young to stand for election, but he knows his father needs all the help he can get in the state polls due later this year. Chouhan, who has been CM thrice, faces anti-incumbency.
Since the relationship is lukewarm, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah may not pull out all the stops to help him out, as they did in Gujarat. But Chouhan has another powerful force working for him, the RSS. Sangh sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat spent a week in Vidisha, and in the last six months, has made several trips to the state.