Who’s with whom?
When it was finally announced that Ahmed Patel had won the hotly contested third Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat, Smriti Irani, who had won her own seat, was in tears. BJP president Amit Shah, who had made Patel’s defeat a prestige issue, was shell-shocked. He, however, recovered his composure and gave a stirring speech, thanking the MLAs who voted for him. At the end of the day, it was still not quite clear — in the murky atmosphere where money and other inducements were offered by both sides — who voted for whom. Three MLAs who claimed to have voted for the Congress seem to have actually voted for the BJP — that is, the two NCP MLAs, Jayant Patel and Kandhal Jadeja, and Nalin Kotadiya, who merged his GPP party with the BJP. Incidentally, the role of the NCP central leadership is suspicious, with the normally accessible Praful Patel, stationed in Gujarat, switching off his mobile and issuing a statement at 4.30 pm, long after everyone had voted, that his party would be supporting the Congress. Ahmed Patel actually won because the lone JD(U) MLA, Chhotu Vasava, who came in a car escorted by BJP personnel and was greeted by Amit Shah, actually voted for the Congress. Incidentally, while the Kshatriyas in the Congress were a divided lot, the tribal MLAs, though less affluent, remained solidly loyal to the the party.
The blame for the BJP’s defeat is being put on Pradipsinh Jadeja, the Gujarat Minister of Home and Legislative Affairs, who is a Shah protégé, and Pankaj Desai, the BJP’s chief whip in the Assembly. They failed to instruct the two defecting Congress MLAs, whose votes were disqualified, on the etiquette of voting (you are not allowed to show your ballot paper to an unauthorised person). But some BJP members feel it was also a case of overconfidence. Why were six Congress MLAs from the Shankersinh Vaghela camp allowed to resign from the Assembly before the Rajya Sabha election rather than after (consequently, they were not allowed to vote)? It is claimed the defections were done in haste because Vaghela apprehended the floor-crossers might be persuaded to switch sides again.
Congress leader Manish Tewari is a senior fellow of the US think-tank Atlantic Council. Last month, he invited several journalists and politicians, specialists in foreign affairs and security, to meet council chairperson Frederick Kempe. One of the invitees was Tewari’s boss, Rahul Gandhi, who repeatedly referred to BJP leader Yashwant Sinha as Yashwant Singh, apparently mixing him up with Jaswant Singh. Finally Sinha had perforce to correct him. A journalist asked why the Congress did not demand that Sinha’s report on Kashmir, which emphasised the importance of dialogue, be discussed in Parliament. Gandhi nixed the suggestion. He gave the analogy that it was like being asked to go from Delhi Gymkhana Club to Connaught Place, when you don’t have a car. When another scribe asked what political steps might be advisable for the Congress, he remarked that one does not instruct Sachin Tendulkar how to bat.
The Delhi Parsi Anjuman, the association for the community in the region, has some 300 members. The community exerts clout totally disproportionate to its feeble numbers in the Capital. Central ministers seldom decline an invitation to attend the community’s festivities on Navroze. This year’s chief guest on August 17 is Smriti Zubin Irani, who happens to be married to a Parsi. So is Manish Tewari, a minister in Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet. Of course, the best known Parsi spouse of a non-Parsi politician was Feroze Gandhi. Indira Gandhi had a soft corner for the community and so does Narendra Modi.
A major attraction at the five-year-old Khushwant Singh Litfest in Kasauli is the participation by Pakistani journalists and intellectuals. The popular litfest aims to promote closer people-to-people ties between the two countries, an issue the late author was passionate about. Last year, for the first time, the organisers were not allowed to invite Pakistanis. Kasauli is a military cantonment and the brigadier in charge of the Himalayan hill station declined to seek permission from higher authorities in Delhi. Singh’s son and the trustee of the foundation, journalist Rahul Singh, wrote to Sushma Swaraj on June 1, requesting her external affairs ministry to clear Pakistani participation for the festival this October. Swaraj, who has earned a reputation for being extremely prompt in redressing grievances of NRIs and others who tweet to her their problems, has not responded to Singh so far. Maybe the organisers of the festival should send her a tweet.