Next year is crucial for the BJP. Assembly polls are due in seven states and the BJP is at present in a majority in six. With Covid, the farmers’ agitation, demands for a caste census and inflation, it appears hard for the ruling party to repeat its success in all the six states — Goa, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. The most crucial election is of course UP’s. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has lost ground in the wake of the pandemic. He is hoping that a divided and too-casual Opposition, along with possible polarisation following events in Afghanistan, will see him through. However, even in his own party some are wary of an Adityanath victory, criticising him for his over-the-top campaign displaying his photograph along with the Prime Minister on billboards in the Capital. At 49, Adityanath is the youngest of all future prime ministerial hopefuls. Modi will turn 73 in 2024. Apart from Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, all other Assembly polls are likely to be held by March.
Bhagwat & Modi
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat manoeuvred since February 2013 for Narendra Modi to be the BJP prime ministerial candidate, according to veteran political journalist P Raman in his to soon-to-be released new book, Tryst with Strong Leader Populism. Raman writes that L K Advani did his utmost to scuttle Bhagwat’s efforts to appoint Modi the chairman of the BJP campaign committee, a position that would ensure that he would eventually be made the party’s prime ministerial candidate. When Advani realised he could not put forward his own name once again, he tried desperately to promote Sushma Swaraj. But Rajnath Singh as party president was directed by Bhagwat to ratify Modi’s appointment at the BJP national executive in Goa in June 2013 and party workers instructed to demonstrate support for Modi. Advani pointedly skipped the meeting. Bhagwat felt that fellow pracharak Modi would fulfil the Hindutva ideals, which Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani had failed to do. Once Modi became PM, Bhagwat even gave him full power to run the party organisation. Unlike his predecessor, K S Sudarshan, he did not allow the Sangh activist groups, the BMS (Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh), the BKS (Bharatiya Kisan Sangh) and the SJM (Swadeshi Jagaran Manch), to foist their swadeshi economic agenda on the new government.
Pals from the Past
Superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s closeness to the Gandhi family in his youth has been much written about, but not so well known is the fact that actor Kabir Bedi was also a good friend of the Gandhis. Bedi reveals this in his autobiography Stories I Must Tell. He was chummy with Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi since they attended the same nursery school run by a German lady, Elisabeth Gauba. Although Rajiv and Sanjay were the grandchildren of then PM Jawaharlal Nehru, Bedi had free access to Teen Murti House and sat in the best seats at the Republic Day parade with “aunty Indu”. Bedi last met Rajiv six months after he took over as prime minister. While showing him around his office the PM remarked, “How did I get trapped here, buddy?” Interestingly, Bedi’s acting talents were not recognised by the St Stephen’s College’s dramatics society. He was cast in the Julius Caesar production in the lowly role of Casca while Congress leader Kapil Sibal won the lead role of Caesar. The student magazine joked of Sibal’s performance that Caesar had been murdered twice, once by Brutus and yet again by Sibal. The CPI(M)’s Brinda Karat nee Das was the best actress in the college productions, Bedi reminisces.
At Sonia Gandhi’s virtual meeting with 19 Opposition leaders last month to chalk out a strategy to fight the BJP in the 2024 general election, there was a slight hiccup when she asked Sitaram Yechury to initiate the talks. The TMC’s Mamata Banerjee objected and suggested that a seasoned leader like Sharad Pawar should start the discussions. Apart from Banerjee, Yechury’s increasing influence over Gandhi is not to the liking of either the Congress or CPI(M). Usually, it is Jairam Ramesh who handles drafting of speeches and party memoranda for Gandhi and he is unlikely to appreciate an outsider sharing his role. The CPI(M), meanwhile, feels that Yechury should utilise his talents in first putting his own house in order.
In sharp contrast to his predecessor Anil Deshmukh, who was ever willing to give a quote on everything, from Bollywood to gangsters, Maharashtra Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil responds with the standard “No comment” to any question. The low-profile Walse Patil has instructions from his boss Sharad Pawar to keep out of all controversies. Some are puzzled that the once-high-flyer Deshmukh has thus far evaded arrest, since those around him, even his lawyer, are already in CBI custody.