Inside Track: From Maharashtra politics to Rakesh Asthana still in favour

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Published: November 24, 2019 12:16:36 AM

Most intriguing of all was the fact that Amit Shah’s camp seemed uncharacteristically comatose and benevolent about losing the most cash-rich state in India.

Aaditya Thackeray, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar (Reuters image)Aaditya Thackeray, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar (Reuters image)

Pawar of silence
Actions sometimes speak louder than words. The confident sound bytes from the Shiv Sena and Congress leaders were belied by Sharad Pawar’s inscrutable actions. When speed is imperative, he deliberately procrastinated, even having a cosy chat on drought with Narendra Modi. He exited a meeting with Sonia Gandhi claiming blandly there was no talk on the alliance yet. In Central Hall, the poor vibes between the three parties were telling. Pawar was speaking to Ramdas Athawale from the Maharashtra NDA, while Ahmed Patel just a few feet away expressed uncertainty about Maharashtra. Most intriguing of all was the fact that Amit Shah’s camp seemed uncharacteristically comatose and benevolent about losing the most cash-rich state in India. The test of Pawar’s proclaimed innocence is whether Supriya Sule becomes a central minister within six months.

Marketing Modi
In his latest book, 2019: How Modi Won India, veteran journalist Rajdeep Sardesai talks about the enormous scale of the BJP’s tech- driven campaign. Six months before the election, the BJP set up 161 round-the-clock call centres, on an average one every three constituencies. Up to 10 people working around the clock in two shifts were deployed in every call centre for tele-marketing. The centres were given a detailed list of the 22 crore beneficiaries of government programmes and asked to contact them via SMS, WhatsApp, e-mail or personal visits, to remind them how they had benefited from Prime Minister Modi’s schemes. The staff also gave regular feedback from the ground to the 8.6 lakh BJP booth committees. Many of the 15,000 tele-callers were paid employees. The call centres were supervised by state-level BJP leaders and the central office in Delhi. A private Mumbai company, Jarvis Technology, which worked earlier with outgoing Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, assisted the BJP in its Herculean task. The outreach was certainly innovative, but the author questions whether it was above board. The lines between the government and party were completely blurred, since such private information on beneficiaries is only available with official agencies.

A woman’s touch
Uddhav Thackeray’s ambitious wife Rashmi was the driving force, along with Saamana editor Sanjay Raut, behind Thackeray’s decision to walk out of the NDA and stake claim to the chief minister’s post. Uddhav is temperamentally laid back and non-confrontational and was earlier more preoccupied with wildlife photography than politics. Before the poll results, Uddhav was content to project his elder son Aaditya on campaign posters as the party’s face, the assumption being that Aaditya would be appointed deputy CM in a BJP-led government. After the results, when Rashmi realised that the BJP was not in a commanding position, she pressed her husband to insist that he be made CM for half of the five-year term. The latest posters of the Shiv Sena now project Uddhav, not his son. Rashmi attends party meetings at home and is even seen at some Sena public functions. Raut, of course, has the complete trust of the Thackerays and no one else, besides the family, is allowed to speak on behalf of the Sena. In fact, two days after he underwent an angioplasty for artery blockages, Raut had per force to address a press conference.

Still in favour
The high-profile additional director in the CBI, Rakesh Asthana, was transferred out early this year and given the punishment posting of director general, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security. Asthana’s fall from grace came after an ugly public feud between him and his boss, former director of the CBI Alok Verma. With Verma filing a criminal case against Asthana, and Verma, in turn, being targeted by Asthana’s friends, it was a major embarrassment for the government. Both officers were transferred out of the CBI. At Asthana’s son’s marriage in Delhi on November 16, the VIP guests included Home Minister Amit Shah and industrialist Gautam Adani. The impressive turnout suggests that the powerful Gujarat-cadre police officer may yet return to the CBI.

Bowled out
India TV owner Rajat Sharma’s last-ditch attempt to get back presidentship of the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) is unlikely to succeed. The ombudsman, justice Badar Durrez Ahmed, may have tried to withhold Sharma’s resignation, but it has already been accepted by the Apex Council, with nine of the 16 members speaking out against Sharma. Besides, the ombudsman’s one-year term is over. Sharma was elected in July last year thanks to the backing of the late Arun Jaitley, who at that time was recovering from his kidney transplant operation. However, within weeks, Sharma alienated most of the directors and other influential backers, many of them Jaitley’s protégés. Sharma’s constant efforts to project proximity to senior ministers may no longer prevent holding of a general body
meeting, where his lack of support might be evident.

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