Inside track: Coomi Kapoor

Why would Modi, known to prefer low-key, mild, relatively unknown faces for chief minister, opt for a man who could eventually turn out to be a potential rival?

Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath (Reuters)

Shah’s choice

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was given all the credit for the BJP’s victory in UP until Yogi Adityanath was made chief minister. Suddenly, a section of the party began hailing the Yogi for the victory and raising the slogan “Har Har Yogi’’. Some even spoke of him as a future PM. So why would Modi, known to prefer low-key, mild, relatively unknown faces for chief minister, opt for a man who could eventually turn out to be a potential rival? Modi had, in fact, backed Manoj Sinha, his business-like minister of state for telecom, for the chief minister’s post. Modi had even conveyed the news to Sinha. Which is why Sinha flew to Varanasi to offer prayers at two key temples. But Amit Shah put a spoke in Sinha’s candidature at the last minute by warning there were murmurs against Sinha from a section of the party. There was a parallel move to install Rajnath Singh as CM. To avoid having to choose between Singh and Sinha, the wily Shah suggested Yogi’s name as the best compromise candidate. Though Adityanath was neither Modi’s nor the RSS’s first choice, they bought the argument that he could be the best bet for winning the 2019 elections, since he was capable of taking tough decisions.

Left leaderless

Rahul Gandhi was in the US to bring back Sonia Gandhi, who was hospitalised. The Congress as a consequence was leaderless, with party MPs not given any clear instructions, allowing the Modi government to transact its business in Parliament very smoothly last week. In 2011, when Sonia had gone abroad for medical treatment, a committee of senior Congresspersons had been set up to take decisions in her absence. But no committee was constituted this time.

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Dark horse prez?

After the bombshell announcement of Yogi Adityanath as UP CM, political observers feel another shock may be in the offing when the BJP names its presidential candidate. The party believes it has enough votes to get its nominee elected on its own. A popular name making the rounds is Sumitra Mahajan, the Lok Sabha Speaker. Other conventional choices are Ram Naik, Sushma Swaraj and M Venkaiah Naidu. However, many partypersons believe PM Modi may eventually opt for a dark horse, who would break new ground. Fitting this category is Draupadi Murmu, who has the advantage of being both a tribal and a woman. No tribal has been appointed president of India. Murmu, a Santhal from Odisha, is a three- time MLA and one-time state minister who is currently governor of Jharkhand. Another in the category of relative unknowns who could be picked as a symbolic gesture is Thawar Chand Gehlot, the minister for social justice, a scheduled caste MP from Madhya Pradesh.

His own man

A section of the Congress is annoyed with Shashi Tharoor, the suave but controversial MP. Some people have started a signature campaign that in 2019 Tharoor should be projected as the Congress’ prime ministerial candidate. While Tharoor has kept a discreet distance from the ‘Induct Tharoor’ campaign, he recently wrote an article suggesting that the country revert to the presidential system of government. This is not the official view of the Congress, particularly when the BJP is riding high at the moment with a series of electoral wins and has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. But in some respects, Tharoor has always been a law unto himself in the party.

Still together

Akhilesh Yadav as outgoing CM had per force to be present on the dais at the swearing-in of Yogi Adityanath, but there was comment at Mulayam Singh’s presence, when the Congress and BSP boycotted the event. Contrary to the impression during the campaign that there is a rift between the father and son, Mulayam appeared on friendly terms with Akhilesh and even called him to his side to greet the PM. Mulayam, a veteran in UP politics, provided a running commentary on the backgrounds of many of the newly sworn-in ministers.

For what?

Congress MP Jairam Ramesh came up to home minister Rajnath Singh in Parliament and congratulated him. “For what?’’ was Singh’s cryptic counter. Singh is clearly unhappy about Amit Shah’s manoeuvring in UP. Particularly at the fact that his son Pankaj Singh, who had a thumping victory in Noida in the Assembly elections, was not made a minister, unlike the offspring of other senior BJP leaders.

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