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Inside Track by Coomi Kapoor: Useful Fall Guy

With Sonia Gandhi personally meeting Kishor and listening to his presentation of how to handle the 2024 Lok Sabha election, the Gandhi family seems to have come around.

For the Gandhis, Kishor would serve as a convenient fall guy should the party fail yet again at the hustings. (File image)
For the Gandhis, Kishor would serve as a convenient fall guy should the party fail yet again at the hustings. (File image)

When Priyanka Gandhi Vadra first suggested Prashant Kishor’s name as the right man to lead the Congress poll campaigns, there was general resistance. Even close lieutenants of Rahul Gandhi were opposed as it would clip their wings. But with Sonia Gandhi personally meeting Kishor and listening to his presentation of how to handle the 2024 Lok Sabha election, the Gandhi family seems to have come around. For the Gandhis, Kishor would serve as a convenient fall guy should the party fail yet again at the hustings. The blame will shift from Rahul to Kishor. Of course, any victory will still be ascribed to the Gandhis’ magnetism. A sticky point of difference between Kishor and the Congress remains as to how the partnership should be worked out. Kishor wants to focus only on the 2024 general election, liaising also with other Opposition parties, many of which have been his clients. The Congress feels he should first test his mettle by handling the difficult Gujarat Assembly elections due later this year. In fact, the Gujarat Congress leadership is still sitting idle, expecting Kishor to chalk out a plan.

Doubtful Loyalty
But nothing is ever certain in the Congress. And party persons are already questioning just whose side Kishor is on. For instance, this week he congratulated Ripun Bora who quit the Congress to join the TMC in Assam, a move seen as exposing his divided loyalties. The buzz in the party is that when a senior Congress leader in a conversation with Kishor sought to compare his proposed role to that of the late Ahmed Patel, Kishor protested that Patel was a party minion while he saw himself as a stake holder. Kishor’s game plan for the Congress suggests he personally work out the seat-sharing numbers in states like Telangana, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand in 2024, a move acceptable neither to the regional parties nor to the Congress.

Fitting the Bill
Vinay Mohan Kwatra was a surprise choice as Foreign Secretary. The low-profile Kwatra was posted in Nepal, a relative backwater in the pecking order of ambassadorial postings, and did not graduate from snobby St Stephen’s College, the preferred alma mater of our foreign secretaries. Actually, Kwatra’s qualifications suited the Prime Minister perfectly. After the 2014 polls, when Modi was new to the job, Kwatra as joint secretary had volunteered to act as Modi’s interpreter and his foreign policy background helped smoothen the flow of discussions with foreign heads of state. Kwatra’s strength is his fluency in Hindi, unlike many senior IFS officers who speak several foreign languages but falter in the use of Hindi. Modi is comfortable with Kwatra as he has served in the PMO. As India’s ambassador in Paris, he played a key role in the finalisation of the Rafael fighter jet deal. Kwatra was later posted to Nepal in 2020 because someone reliable was needed to stabilise what was then a shaky relationship with the neighbour.

Eyeing New Patel
During the last Assembly election, the young fiery Hardik Patel was the hero of the Patel agitation and Rahul Gandhi wooed him aggressively. Despite objections of old-time Congresspersons, he was later even appointed working president of the state unit. But Hardik, despite his impressive title, grumbles publicly that he has no say whatsoever in running the party. The Congress now has little use for Hardik and is instead keen to enlist Naresh Patel, who heads the Khodaldham complex near Rajkot, as its point person for the Patels. Naresh’s advantage is that he is a Leuva Patel, the dominant faction, while Hardik is a Kadva Patel. More importantly, Hardik like Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Anandiben Patel is from North Gujarat. (In fact Modi, Shah and Anandiben’s home bases are in a 70-kilometre radius in the Gandhinagar-Mehsana belt). Since in the last 21 years no one from south and central Gujarat or Saurashtra has wielded real power in the state, Naresh’s biggest plus point is that he is from Saurashtra.

Not Media Friendly
Most Punjab chief ministers had one thing in common: they all preferred to run the government from home rather that the Civil Secretariat. The new CM, Bhagwant Mann, is no exception. Even Mann’s videos are made from home. Initially a studio was set up for him at his secretariat office, but after the contents of the first video were leaked, a studio was organised at his residence. The AAP government is following the example of BJP governments in keeping the media at bay. Unlike the glasnost during Congress regimes, AAP’s ministers in Punjab are reluctant to speak to the media.

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