Inside Track: From Priyanka Gandhi’s entry in politics to Hardeep Puri’s performance as minister

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January 27, 2019 1:40 AM

The four filmstar MPs in the Trinamool Congress — Sandhya Roy, Tapas Paul, Satabdi Roy and Moon Moon Sen — are apprehensive that Mamata Banerjee will drop them in the coming polls.

When Hardeep Puri took over as MoS housing and urban development in September 2017, there was scepticism as to whether a former diplomat could handle a portfolio totally outside his field of expertise.

Bigger share of pie?

Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics is not just a challenge for the BJP, it is also a message to the anti-BJP Opposition that the Grand Old Party cannot be taken for granted. While preaching unity, gathbandhan votaries such as the SP, BSP, TDP and TMC have kept the Congress out of an alliance in their respective states. Others like the DMK, RJD, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha may offer the Congress less than 10 seats in state-specific tie-ups. In such a situation, the Congress would be a serious contender in only some 260 of the 543 parliamentary seats. It would have to win every second seat out of the 260 if it hopes to reach a respectable figure of around 125 seats, and be in a commanding position in an anti-BJP coalition government. Whether with Priyanka’s charismatic presence the Congress can ask for a bigger slice of the pie will be known in the coming weeks.

Priyanka factor
Those who once dismissed the Congress as a spent force in UP now acknowledge that with Priyanka’s presence the party has a fighting chance in constituencies such as Kanpur, Jhansi, Saharanpur, Ghaziabad, Padrauna, Lucknow, Barabanki, Varanasi, Allahabad and Farrukhabad, apart from the family pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli. Priyanka’s cousin Varun Gandhi is unlikely to stand from nearby Sultanpur and Narendra Modi may perforce have to spend more time campaigning in Varanasi. But the Congress could also upset the calculations of the BSP-SP alliance, splitting the anti-BJP vote. Some suspect that the SP knew in advance of Priyanka’s entry and could eventually reach a tacit understanding over a few urban seats. Though Mayawati is reportedly fuming over the Priyanka announcement, Congresspersons still nurse a hope that the gathbandhan will offer the party a more respectable deal.

Stars struck off
The four filmstar MPs in the Trinamool Congress — Sandhya Roy, Tapas Paul, Satabdi Roy and Moon Moon Sen — are apprehensive that Mamata Banerjee will drop them in the coming polls. Tapas Paul is definitely out of the race because of his alleged links to the Rose Valley chit fund case while the performance of the three others as parliamentarians has reportedly been found wanting. Mamata is not meeting MPs these days, so it makes more sense for the three to plead their case with Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata’s nephew, now unquestionably her heir apparent. The powerful nephew’s photo even figured in all party posters for the recent TMC rally in Kolkata.

Strange happenings
It is increasingly difficult for the Congress in Karnataka to maintain the façade that the BJP is to blame for the murky shenanigans in the party. Last Sunday night, a brawl broke out among Congress MLAs lodged at Eagleton Resorts near Bengaluru and a seriously injured Anand Singh had to be hospitalised. Congress minister DK Shivakumar, who made arrangements for the MLAs’ stay, claimed at first that Singh had suffered a heart attack. But the cover-up came to light when Anand Singh’s wife took one look at her husband’s cracked skull and bruised face and announced that she was going to police, regardless of the Congress denials. An FIR of attempted murder has now been registered against J N Ganesh, the Congress MLA accused of the assault who was later suspended by an embarrassed party. Accounts differ as to whether the weapon was a flower pot, a stick or a whiskey bottle. The brawl reportedly broke out when Ganesh, one of the MLAs who was temporarily missing from Karnataka, accused Anand Singh of being a double-crosser and an agent of Shivakumar. Suspicion remains that former chief minister Siddaramaiah and dislodged minister Ramesh Jarkiholi encouraged the MLAs to do the disappearing act in a bid to bring down the Kumaraswamy government before the Lok Sabha polls. Meanwhile, CM HD Kumaraswamy has not made any comment on the strange goings-on in the Congress.

Hands-on minister
When Hardeep Puri took over as MoS housing and urban development in September 2017, there was scepticism as to whether a former diplomat could handle a portfolio totally outside his field of expertise. But the figures speak for themselves. In his first 15 months in office, the ministry’s project completions and investments have shot up dramatically. The number of projects for Smart Cities has gone up from 109 to 1,409. There were only three states free of open defecation in the first three years of the Modi government; there are now 19. The number of tap connections has gone up from 1.22 lakh to 47.37 lakh. House occupation by beneficiaries was 5,23,395 till September 2017, it is now 8,68,177. In the same period, the central assistance released to the states for housing has gone up from `11,654 crore to `23,874 crore.

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