The Congress high command is known to drag its feet rather than take tough calls against entrenched state leaders. So the sudden bout of firmness of Rahul Gandhi, backed by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, in insisting that Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh accept old bête noire Navjot Singh Sidhu as Pradesh Congress Chief was out of character. Now, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who for a year has dug in his heels, refusing to accommodate Sachin Pilot supporters in his Cabinet, and who defiantly continues to hold 18-odd portfolios, may be the next target. The new steel in the Congress spine is reportedly courtesy Prashant Kishor, whose advice appears to carry weight with the Gandhi siblings. Though Kishor was originally Amarinder’s appointee, he nevertheless warned the Gandhis that despite the CM’s stature, Sidhu was gaining traction with the public by raising popular issues. Sidhu, incidentally, is not particularly popular with the Congress MLAs. The reason that 60 legislators showed up at his Amritsar residence to demonstrate support was because they were asked to do so by the party high command.
Getting into act
Opposition politicians are concerned that Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav is taking his time getting into campaign mode, even though there is a discernible anti-establishment mood in Uttar Pradesh, particularly after the recent Covid deaths. But contrary to that impression, Akhilesh is actually taking the electoral challenge seriously. To begin with, he was struck by a serious attack of Covid and spent over a month recovering. Now he has to iron out wrinkles while stitching up alliances. For instance, the RLD’s Jayant Chaudhary is demanding far too many seats in the Jat belt of western UP. His father Ajit was more realistic about the party’s actual strength. Om Prakash Rajbhar, who represents the electorally powerful backward sub-caste in eastern UP is also pitching his party’s claim too high. Meanwhile, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal seems to have set his sights on the urban UP seats contiguous to Delhi, in Ghaziabad and Noida. To add to Akhilesh’s woes, his father, the ailing Mulayam Singh Yadav, insists he invite estranged uncle Shivpal Yadav to join his alliance. Akhilesh is willing, provided Shivpal merges his party with the SP, given that in the past his uncle has cozied up to the BJP.
The simmering resentment felt by many ruling party MPs over the recent inductions in the Central ministries was apparent when Parliament re-opened. On the first Tuesday after the reopening, V Satish, who coordinates with the BJP’s parliamentary wing, was overheard complaining that 75-odd members had not shown up for its weekly meeting, reflecting the sullen mood of some of those who missed the bus. The high level of absenteeism in the usually disciplined party did not go unnoticed.
The new Railway Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, wants to make it clear that he is a workaholic and expects others in his ministry to follow his example. At least Prime Minister Modi is bound to be impressed by the long hours Vaishnaw devotes to look after his multi-ministry charge, given his own ’17-hour working day’. Mercifully, the new minister did not insist that his staff too put in such long hours.
Instead, he issued a directive that those working in the minister’s cell report in two shifts, one from 7 am to 4 pm and the other from 3 pm to midnight. To warn against any slackness, Vaishnaw on his first day in office went around Railway Bhavan, checking out staff who were not at their seats at 9 am. Those accustomed to turning up leisurely were quick to get the message. The minister’s round was also a PR exercise. He chatted with employees, hugging an inspector-level officer on finding that both attended the same college.
Slamming the door
Whatever rapprochement was possible between the Shiv Sena and BJP has been virtually scuttled with the Sena’s biggest foe, Narayan Rane, being appointed a Central minister. Rane, believed to be Amit Shah’s nominee, started his career in the Sena as a shakha pramukh and a local tough. He has a colourful and controversial history. His appointment has also shocked a number of old BJP hands who in the past had criticised many aspects of his rags to riches story and rough and ready ways. His critics say that Rane, who showed up for his swearing-in ceremony in a Mercedes, is overrated as a Maratha strongman who can take on the Sena in Mumbai and the Konkan. The Sena feels that the BJP leadership displayed political immaturity by assuming that tea and social interactions with the PM were enough to make Uddhav Thackeray switch sides.