There is some heartburn in the Congress over the pecking order in the Rajya Sabha. Finance minister Arun Jaitley was surprised to find that P Chidambaram wanted to discuss the changes the government was prepared to concede in the proposed GST Bill, as Sonia Gandhi had asked him to do so. But Jaitley was already in talks on the Bill with Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House Ghulam Nabi Azad and his deputy Anand Sharma. Chidambaram’s intervention seems to be part of the efforts to supercede Azad and Sharma as the main interlocutors in deciding Congress strategy in the Rajya Sabha. A policy group of five MPs to formulate the party position in both Houses of Parliament is to be set up, with P Chidambaram, Anand Sharma, Jairam Ramesh, Rajiv Satav, a favourite of Rahul Gandhi, and KV Thomas. Significantly, Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge, the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, have not been included in the group.
TMC chief Mamata Banerjee does not want her security to make special arrangements for her when travelling. She flies economy class and refuses to wait in the VIP lounge. This sometimes creates problems. All sorts of people take selfies with her. Someone even clicked a picture with her when she was coming out of the toilet. Banerjee admits that many of the people who want to take selfies may not be desirable characters, especially when they promptly post the photos on Facebook and WhatsApp to claim proximity to the West Bengal chief minister.
Biding his time
There was near hysteria in Tamil Nadu to see superstar Rajinikanth’s latest movie Kabali, which broke all box-office records. Small wonder that politicians in Tamil Nadu have for years been wooing the enormously popular actor. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the star. Rajinikanth, however, has managed to keep everyone guessing, whether, and if yes, when will he join politics. In 1996, he supported the DMK-TMC (Tamil Maanila Congress) alliance by asserting that if Jayalalithaa was returned to power then not even God could save Tamil Nadu. But at that time, he had had a tiff with his neighbour in Chennai’s Poes Garden, as her cavalcade had blocked his limousine. Later, he changed his tune, indicating his support for Jayalalithaa in 2011. The actor, in fact, manages to be on good terms with both Jayalalithaa and DMK boss M Karunanidhi without committing himself to either. Probably, Rajinikanth at 65 years of age has decided to wait till the two titans of Tamil Nadu politics bow out of the political arena, before he himself takes the plunge into state politics.
The Congress’ first bus yatra to galvanise cadres for the Uttar Pradesh campaign started on a shaky note. There were less than 400 people at the party headquarters when Sonia Gandhi flagged off the vehicle. The Congress’ chief ministerial candidate, Sheila Dikshit, 78, who was sitting at the front of the bus, fell ill even before the bus had crossed Delhi and entered Uttar Pradesh. A doctor was hastily summoned and Dikshit got off the bus. She rejoined the campaign at Kanpur. Some occupants of the bus suffered from travel sickness. Congress poll strategist Prashant Kishor is being blamed for the mess-up. It is felt that he did not put his heart into organising the Congress’ UP campaign. Some say cynically that Kishor wants to give up the Congress account. On the other hand, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar complained to a senior Congress leader that though Kishor has been given a Cabinet-rank post in Bihar, he has not produced any grand ideas, as promised, for the development of Bihar.
At the BJP parliamentary board meeting just before the start of the monsoon session, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj gave an hour-long power-point presentation on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign trips. This was meant to teach the MPs how to counter the criticism that Modi spent too much time abroad and neglected domestic duties. Swaraj explained how Modi reached out to the local Indian community in different countries and exhorted them to help secure foreign investment. The MPs thumped their desks in appreciation. Modi smiled when Swaraj recalled how he had raised chuckles in the US Congress by referring to the disturbances which often marred proceedings in both the US Congress and the Indian Parliament.