Inside Track: Kapil Sibal’s dinner was more popular among Opposition leaders than Rahul Gandhi’s breakfast meet, writes Coomi Kapoor

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August 15, 2021 6:30 AM

Rahul Gandhi’s breakfast meeting recently with Opposition MPs to build up a national narrative against the Modi government was not as successful as the Congress tried to project.

Despite the help of the CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, political parties like the BSP and AAP stayed away. Some others, such as the NCP, TMC and SP sent their B-team.Despite the help of the CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, political parties like the BSP and AAP stayed away. Some others, such as the NCP, TMC and SP sent their B-team.

While former Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal is cited approvingly as an example of a senior BJP leader who fell unquestioningly in line with the diktat of the party high command, Sonowal may not be quite as accommodating as the leadership assumes. He is said to be unhappy about being allotted the Shipping portfolio. His grouse was that before the recent Cabinet expansion, the two men who were sure shots to be taken into Modi’s Cabinet were Jyotiraditya Scindia and himself. But while the two heavyweights had been palmed off with the lightweight Civil Aviation and Shipping portfolios respectively, a newcomer like Ashwini Vaishnaw had been handed three powerful assignments. Just a decade ago, Vaishaw was secretary to the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Scindia, who was in the vicinity, made it clear he did not want to be associated with Sonowal’s grouse.

B-Team sent
Rahul Gandhi’s breakfast meeting recently with Opposition MPs to build up a national narrative against the Modi government was not as successful as the Congress tried to project. Despite the help of the CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, political parties like the BSP and AAP stayed away. Some others, such as the NCP, TMC and SP sent their B-team. One of those present disagreed that Pegasus eavesdropping should be the main focus for the Opposition and wanted anti-Modi forces to hit the road to highlight escalating prices. Another questioned Gandhi for not touring Uttar Pradesh, with polls round the corner. In contrast, when dissident Congressman Kapil Sibal hosted a dinner last week, heavyweights like Sharad Pawar and Lalu Prasad showed up.

Talk less
Soon after being sworn in as a minister in Modi’s Cabinet, serial defector Narayan Rane realised that there are drawbacks. He gave a long interview to a TV anchor considered unfriendly to the ruling party. A day later, at a meeting with his ministers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked caustically that some people wanted to be heroes on television — a warning seen as aimed at Rane, which all new entrants duly noted.

Ambitious plans
Many assume that Prashant Kishor is planning to join the Congress. And the party has reportedly even formed a committee to work out the modalities of recruiting him into the party. But whether the ace political strategist, to whom chief ministers defer, would want to be subjected to Congress discipline and hierarchy is another matter. Kishor fancies his role as the kingpin in uniting the Opposition. His first goal is not the coming Assembly elections but the presidential poll next year, with NCP chief Sharad Pawar as the favoured choice. In fact, Sanjay Raut hosted a tea party inviting a few younger MPs from various political parties to push the proposal. But the BJP MPs present felt that this was not the right forum to raise the issue. An embarrassed Supriya Sule agreed.

New Ahmed Patel
Before she left India with her daughter Miraya, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had talks with three state Congress leaders, Sachin Pilot from Rajasthan, Karti Chidambaram from Tamil Nadu and Deepender Hooda from Haryana. A frustrated Pilot is still waiting for his supporters to be accommodated in Ashok Gehlot’s Cabinet. Hooda and Chidambaram are hoping to be appointed as Congress party chiefs in their respective states. Vadra assured all three that she would try and sort out their issues on her return. By default, Vadra, who is officially in charge of Uttar Pradesh, has taken on the role played by the late Ahmed Patel in acting as mediator in intra-party feuds.

New rules
The pandemic has been cited as the reason why very few journalists are permitted to cover Parliament proceedings during the Session. The government’s critics, however, apprehend that the list of scribes has been drastically pruned to ensure minimum interaction between MPs and the press. The new rules permit one newsperson per media group. But even with this new order, there is an exception. NDTV had written to the Lok Sabha Speaker objecting that its political affairs editor, Sunil Prabhu, was not granted a parliamentary pass for the last two sessions and no reason ascribed for his exclusion. Prabhu has covered the Lok Sabha for over two decades and broken several major news stories thanks to his proximity to MPs. If the authorities are authorised to select which journalists can cover Parliament, it could set a dangerous trend.

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