Himanta Biswa Sarma is probably the only BJP CM, with the possible exception of Yogi Adityanath, who gets a free hand in handling his state and the entire Northeast. Though Sarma is a former Congressman and not from the RSS ranks, nevertheless, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah do not undermine his authority. Sarma’s strength is his success in managing the Northeast polls. As an insider put it, Sarma is to Shah, what Shah is to Modi. In the recent Northeast elections, Sarma played a game of shadow-boxing with his good friend and former ally Conrad Sangma in Meghalaya. The BJP, whose influence is restricted to Shillong, campaigned stridently against the state’s tribal majority. Under attack, the tribals polarized and gravitated to Sangma’s party. The losers were the Congress and UDP. In Tripura, the newly formed TIPRA Motha was propped up secretly and helped decimate the Left and Congress alliance. Small wonder that the TIPRA is already holding talks with the ruling BJP in Tripura. And the BJP, with just two MLAs, has got a ministerial berth in the Sangma government.
The late Satinder Kumar Lambah’s soon to be released book, In Pursuit of Peace, talks about a long-standing suspicion — that the Indian government was alerted about a likely strike in the city a fortnight before the Mumbai blasts in 1993.
In his book, Lambah, then High Commissioner of India in Pakistan, writes that he had warned the government of an impending disaster. Lambah later expressed his anguish to then PM Narasimha Rao, that instead of acting on his important information, the Indian authorities only seemed concerned about finding out the basis of the threat. Worse, the news about the warning was later leaked to an Indian newspaper, putting the High Commission’s source at risk. The leak appears to have come from someone in Pakistan’s tottering civilian government.
In the recent by-poll in Kasba Peth of Pune, Congressman Ravindra Dhangekar, formerly a Sena man, won handily. He fought the polls purely on local issues and did not put up a single poster of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Many in the MVA feel that to defeat Modi, they should avoid projecting Rahul as the counter to the PM. In fact, some in the Opposition have already started referring to the victory as the ‘Kasba model’. The BJP, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly conscious that Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde is no match for Uddhav Thackeray when it comes to wooing Sena supporters. The BJP’s nervousness is reflected in the postponement of the BMC polls, which were due in March last year and have now been pushed to September.
Zail Singh speak
In his just released book, The Indian President, retired diplomat K C Singh offers some fascinating details of Giani Zail Singh’s years as president. Rajiv Gandhi as PM had reportedly complained that Singh was an embarrassment when he spoke. But, the author, who served as Singh’s Deputy Secretary and interpreter, noted that though Singh spoke little English, his earthy common sense and candid comments charmed many foreign dignitaries. At a banquet, Queen Elizabeth empathised when then Speaker Balram Jakhar rudely tried to ignore Singh while speaking to the Queen. When Singh retaliated by announcing that Jakhar had once been his deputy minister, the Queen recalled sympathetically that her one-time tailor had eventually become the Speaker of the House of Commons. Prince Philip asked Singh if he often spoke out of turn, as he kept interjecting when Queen Elizabeth and Indira Gandhi were conversing. Singh replied that it was cumbersome to be given tedious speeches to read out. Prince Philip warmed up to him and confessed that he faced a similar problem. The two struck up an unlikely friendship.
Although the Rajasthan polls are around the corner, neither Modi nor Shah have met former CM Vasundhara Raje yet. Her show of strength, by organising a mammoth rally for her 70th birthday last week, was a reminder to the leadership that she cannot be ignored. Raje is politically shrewd enough to realize that a third term as the CM may be out of her reach, but she believes the party would not like to alienate her and is hopeful that it would keep the interests of her supporters and her Lok Sabha MP son, Dushyant, in mind while selecting candidates. In the Congress camp, Sachin Pilot seems to have finally realized that he was banging his head against a brick wall and has abandoned hopes of ever being installed as a Congress CM. The last straw was at the Congress plenary session in Raipur, where delegates from Rajasthan were overwhelmingly CM Ashok Gehlot’s men. Gehlot has already informally started his Assembly campaign.