Big names such as Yogi Adityanath, Piyush Goyal and Devendra Fadnavis were mentioned as possible speakers at the Davos conference, but eventually Ashwini Vaishnaw, Smriti Irani and Mansukh Mandaviya were chosen. Vaishnaw is considered a rising star in the government. His rivals say his ‘GOR’ status give him an edge: G standing for Gujarat where Vaishnaw’s business was set up; O for Odisha which is the favoured state cadre which Vaishnaw belonged to during his tenure in the IAS; while R represents Rajasthan, his home state from where other powerful persons, including the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Chairman, also come from. Vaishnaw scored points with Modi because of his performance in briefing select journalists on good governance, a subject which is not part of his ministerial portfolios of railways, communication and electronics. Modi tested several ministers on their ability to hold forth on subjects outside their respective ministries.
The joke used to be that Raj Bhavans were plush retirement homes for party veterans with impeccable Sangh backgrounds. Anandiben Patel, 81, in Uttar Pradesh, Kalraj Mishra, 81, in Rajasthan, Jagdish Mukhi, 80, in Assam, Bandaru Dattatreya, 75, in Haryana, Thawar Chand Gehlot, 74, in Karnataka, and Bhagat Singh Koshyari, 80, in Maharashtra, are among those who fall in this category.
In non-BJP-ruled states, however, the Central government’s gubernatorial choices are rather different. They are generally newcomers to the Sangh fold who have to prove their credentials by taking on Opposition-run state governments in an adversarial capacity, in cynical defiance of the Constitution’s federal character where the Governor’s role is meant to be largely ceremonial. R N Ravi in Tamil Nadu, Arif Mohammed Khan in Kerala, Jagdeep Dhankhar in West Bengal, Anil Baijal and Vinai Kumar Saxena in Delhi and Kiran Bedi in Puducherry were among those who fell in the latter category.
Dhankhar was rewarded for his running battle with Mamata Banerjee by being made vice president, as it was felt he would be similarly useful in tackling difficult opposition MPs in the Rajya Sabha. In a bid to emulate Dhankhar, Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi, a former police officer, went overboard in confronting the DMK government. Ravi had to hastily backtrack as his unconventional obstructiveness triggered regional sentiments against the Centre. Even the state BJP was not amused. Ravi may be eased out at a later date.
Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s fall from grace is somewhat different. He comes in the veterans’ category and was appointed Maharashtra Governor in September 2019 on the assumption that it would be smooth sailing in a BJP-ruled state. But two months later, Uddhav Thackeray took over as chief minister minus the BJP and relations with the Centre became messy. Koshyari’s embarrassing statements put the BJP on the back foot just before a crucial BMC election. When Modi visited Mumbai, he indicated to the governor it was time to bow out. Koshyari’s likely replacement, Amarinder Singh, however, is an aberration who does not fit into either of the two categories. True, he is 80, but is not from the Sangh.
Traditional Congresspersons are resentful of the dominant role played by NGO activists, mavericks and outsiders in Rahul Gandhi’s yatra, while many Congress MLAs, who helped organise the crowds for the route, were not even granted an audience with Gandhi. In Jammu, a Congress spokesperson resigned in a huff when she discovered that a Congress renegade was allowed to join the march. Digvijaya Singh, one of the original organisers, was ticked off for a “ridiculous’’ comment. Whether or not the yatra benefits the party, whoever planned the candid apolitical interviews of Gandhi with youngsters from the YouTube world, especially a popular food blogger, did wonders for Gandhi’s image makeover, projecting him as super fit, frank and natural.
The Congress is banking on the May Karnataka Assembly elections to gain much-needed electoral momentum as it readies for the general election next year. The party is buoyed by a pre-poll survey which suggests that the Congress is ahead in the three-cornered contest. The danger is that infighting between the two stalwarts, Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar, could trip the Congress at the finish line. Siddaramaiah, a former CM and leader of the Opposition, is at present grabbing attention, while Shivakumar maintains a discreet silence. The latter’s trump card is the example of Ashok Gehlot, whose open defiance left the Gandhi family shell-shocked. Shivkumar’s loyalty has been tested by fire. In the past, his plush Eagleton resort has served as a safe house for Congress MLAs being kept away from poaching by the BJP. The story goes that in 2019, Shivkumar opted to be jailed by the central government rather than hand over two wavering Congress MLAs to help the BJP form the government.