Fast on the draw
The speed with which the JD(S)-Congress stepped in to stake claim to form the Karnataka government is thanks partly to Sitaram Yechury and Mamata Banerjee, who gave the Congress a push, but largely to HD Kumaraswamy. Deve Gowda’s younger son realised that time was of the essence and his father was not given to taking a decision in a hurry, that he would wait for a counter-offer from the BJP. Also, there is a power struggle on within the Gowda family. Kumaraswamy’s elder brother HD Revanna nurses a grievance that it is his turn to get a position in the new government, and his followers talked of a deputy chief ministership in a BJP alliance. Earlier, several family members had been keen to contest the elections, including Kumaraswamy’s wife Radhika and Revanna’s son Prajwal. Eventually, the patriarch put his foot down and decreed that only Kumaraswamy and Revanna would contest as it would be embarrassing if the family hogged too many seats. To ensure that the BJP did not have sufficient time to get its act together, Kumaraswamy did not wait for his father to formally give his consent to the Congress offer of support. He signed the letter of agreement on his own. He then accompanied Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad to Raj Bhavan and appeared on television so that there could be no opportunity for the JD(S) to backtrack.
Jinxed either way
As the Karnataka results came in, some members of BJP president Amit Shah’s team were so cocksure of forming the government that they were actually relieved that the BJP did not cross the 112 halfway mark. This is because there is a superstition that the party which wins Karnataka loses in the general elections. The BJP leaders believed that by not obtaining an outright majority they had overcome the jinx. Little did they realise that in the bargain, the slight shortage of MLAs meant the state could slip out of their hands.
Neither the Indian government nor the Pakistanis appreciate this joint venture. AS Dulat, former R&AW chief, and Mohammed Asad Durrani, former head of Pakistan’s ISI, have collaborated on a book. Titled The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, it is to be formally released shortly. It will enlighten us on various flashpoints in the subcontinent, from hostilities in Kashmir to the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s Hafiz Saeed and the arrest of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav. Both Dulat and Durrani have a lot to reveal considering that they headed their country’s external intelligence agencies apart from working in senior positions in Indian intelligence and Pakistan’s military intelligence respectively. The book has a third author, journalist Aditya Sinha, who guided the conversation between the two former sleuths, which took place on neutral territory, in Istanbul and Kathmandu. It would be interesting to know if the intelligence agencies of either of the two hostile neighbours got wind of the project.
Smriti Irani’s removal from the information and broadcasting ministry came as no surprise. In less than a year, she managed to alienate all sections: the party president, her Cabinet colleagues, the media, the President’s Office, the Prasar Bharati chairperson and the staff working under her. The PMO was flooded with complaints. Among Irani’s many unnecessary duels was insisting on opening a crèche next to the busy journalists’ work station at the PIB’s media centre, even though it was pointed out that it was an unsuitable location and there was no demand for a crèche from accredited correspondents. The room expensively decorated with tiny Donald Duck beds and colourful wallpaper now lies empty and locked.
Regardless of the final outcome, the Congress performance has come as a blow to Rahul Gandhi. Unlike Gujarat, where the Congress was seen as the underdog, this time the general impression was that the Congress was ahead. After Karnataka, Rahul planned to reconstitute the Congress Working Committee. The youngsters he trusted were to be given key assignments, while easing out the older generation close to Sonia Gandhi. But Rahul, now in a weakened position, may be compelled to make compromises. Some of those from Karnataka considered close to him have not covered themselves with glory. Divya Spandana is a former MP from Mandya and the party’s social media in-charge, but the Congress lost all seven Assembly seats in her area of influence. Another Rahul favourite, Madhu Yaksh Goud, was one of the secretaries in charge of Karnataka. The Congress performance in the very seats for which he was personally in charge was particularly disappointing.