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Inside Track: Sonia Gandhi says she is a hands-on interim chief, but Rahul holds complete sway over Congress party

Rahul Gandhi’s comment at the CWC that when he informed Charanjit Singh Channi that he was being appointed the Chief Minister of Punjab, he broke down, was the subject of much private discussion in the party.

The CWC was unmindful that the party itself exemplified autocracy of sorts, having skipped even a pretence of internal democracy, with elections not held since 1998.

Look who’s talking

At its meeting last fortnight, the Congress Working Committee accused the BJP of “electoral autocracy’’. The CWC was unmindful that the party itself exemplified autocracy of sorts, having skipped even a pretence of internal democracy, with elections not held since 1998. In fact, the Election Commission has threatened to freeze the party’s symbol for failure to adhere to its own constitution. Sonia Gandhi says she is a hands-on interim chief, but the party’s real power centre, known as the “high command”, is a euphemism for Rahul Gandhi and his close confidants. Rahul’s complete sway over the party was apparent when he declared that he would don the formal crown as president only when he chose to and not simply because some begged him to.

Telling remark

Rahul Gandhi’s comment at the CWC that when he informed Charanjit Singh Channi that he was being appointed the Chief Minister of Punjab, he broke down, was the subject of much private discussion in the party. The surmise was that Rahul implied that Channi, a Dalit, fitted into his vision of steering the party’s ideological position in a more Leftist direction, aimed at marginalised groups. The comment was also seen as directed at Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot and Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel, who have refused to budge in respective power tussles with their rivals. Where does that place Navjot Singh Sidhu in the new scheme of things?

Not in or out

When Subramanian Swamy’s name was not announced as a member of the BJP National Executive this month, it was yet another indicator that the outspoken, unconventional politician and the BJP leadership were not on the same page. The first signs of the cold vibes between Swamy and the Modi regime surfaced shortly after he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in April 2016. At the request of then party president Amit Shah, Swamy filled out the official form declaring himself to be a member of the BJP and not an Independent, a status some nominated members opt for. Swamy attended the first two meetings of the BJP parliamentary party but subsequently he was not invited. In his second session in the Rajya Sabha, he was asked to be the lead speaker on the Augusta Westland deal but subsequently, the party bosses completely marginalised the articulate parliamentarian though he still sat prominently in the treasury benches. Unsurprisingly, Swamy’s tweets have become increasingly irreverent towards the party leadership, even questioning why a cricket stadium in Ahmedabad should be renamed after a living leader (Narendra Modi).

Kishor’s challenge

Huge billboards of Mamata Banerjee dominate the Goan landscape. Banerjee’s political campaigner Prashant Kishor and his organisation I-PAC are handling the TMC campaign for the Assembly elections in the state next year. TMC Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien has set up an office in Goa and plans to spend considerable time there. Veteran Congressman Luizinho Faleiro is so far the most high-profile TMC recruit, but Banerjee is hopeful of enlisting Vijay Sardesai, leader of the Goan Forward Party. Goa’s oldest newspaper, O Heraldo, actively supports the TMC. Kishor has deliberately selected Goa for his latest campaign as he believes that its relatively small population is easier to work on electorally. MLAs here are kingpins in their respective constituencies, and not beholden to political parties. He reckons that even if the TMC were to win less than half-a-dozen seats in the House of 40, it could emerge kingmaker. The Congress and AAP are at a disadvantage with the TMC’s arrival. The ruling BJP, handicapped by anti-incumbency and Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s inability to improve Goa’s pot-holed roads, could well be the biggest beneficiary of the multi-party contests.

Savarkar’s story

Uday Mahurkar’s recent biography of Savarkar makes the case that far from trying to divide the country, he wanted to unify India. The author contends that Savarkar was dismissed in history books with a single line during the Congress years. Then, in 2003. Mani Shankar Aiyar sought to “demonise” Savarkar, holding him responsible for the division of the country. In fact, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the Jana Sangh founder, wrote a letter to Savarkar in 1947, after the riots in Bengal and Punjab, noting that if Hindus had heeded Savarkar’s warning, they would not have ended up as “slaves” in the land of their birth, the author writes. He adds that the late General K M Cariappa while commenting on the debacle in the 1962 war against China had lamented that the nation

did not listen to Savarkar and prepare militarily.

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