There is a preponderance of SCs and OBCs among the new ministers and only one Brahmin, though the caste is far more influential than its numbers.
The induction of seven Ministers of State from Uttar Pradesh in the new Cabinet was with an eye on the Assembly polls next year. But it has actually alienated many, including well-known faces such as Varun Gandhi and Jitin Prasada, a Brahmin. Apna Dal leader Anupriya Patel was promised an MoS with independent charge, but at the last moment had to settle for just the token MoS. There is a preponderance of SCs and OBCs among the new ministers and only one Brahmin, though the caste is far more influential than its numbers. The last-minute changes in the inductees from Uttar Pradesh were reportedly under the influence of Yogi Adityanath, who cited the BJP’s encouraging performance in the recent elections for chairpersons of state zila panchayats. But zila presidents are often chosen through arm-twisting and money power. A more realistic reflection of the party’s popularity is the number of seats won to the zila panchayats, where the Samajwadi Party put up a close contest. In fact, after the results, there was talk that New Delhi might change the chief minister. But persuading a combative Adityanath wouldn’t have been easy. The Uttar Pradesh CM is not a pushover like former Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal.
Vir Sanghvi, a suave bon vivant, sometimes had an edge over rival editors since he moved in the same rarified social circles as a few of the leading politicians of the day. While he was not always able to share his ringside view in real time as a journalist, he has now shared it in his biography, A Rude Life. Sanghvi claims that Sonia Gandhi had Manmohan Singh and not herself in mind as the prime ministerial candidate when she brought down the Vajpayee government in 1996. Since her allies were unlikely to accept Singh, she kept her choice to herself. However, in a TV show Sanghvi anchored back then he questioned Singh as to whether he would accept prime ministership. Singh’s response then and later was, “Who does not want to be PM?” But no one paid notice to the leading question. Sanghvi claims Sonia deliberately surprised her party and allies by announcing Singh’s name for prime minister in 2004, before allies like Sharad Pawar and Lalu Prasad could stake a claim.
Prashant Kishor’s meeting with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra, with Sonia Gandhi taking part in the conversation through a video call, has further reinforced the importance of Kishor as a key political player and not simply a successful poll campaigner. The discussions at Kishor’s meeting with the Gandhi family were reportedly not about the Punjab and UP polls or joining the Congress, but a proposal for a broad political front for the presidential polls next year. Interestingly, Kishor is not just on friendly terms with most of the Opposition but also meets Prime Minister Modi to exchange notes. He has an invaluable asset for all political parties, viz computerised data on some 300-odd parliamentary constituencies in eight states.
The manner in which party veterans Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar were stripped of their positions lacked both grace and consideration. To keep the news from leaking out to the media, the government’s original statement gave the names of only 10 ministers who were stepping down. Prasad and Javadekar’s removal was disclosed just an hour-and-a-half before the swearing-in ceremony so that the news was overshadowed by the announcement of the names of the new ministers. While Javadekar is to work for the party, what role a shell-shocked Prasad will play remains unclear. The BJP does not want to risk contesting a by-election from Patna Sahib, the seat now represented by Prasad in the Lok Sabha. The lone survivor from the Cabinet’s old guard who escaped unscathed from the reshuffle is Rajnath Singh. Even Nitin Gadkari, despite RSS backing, had to part with the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises portfolio. Of late Gadkari spends much of his time in Nagpur.
The multi-storey BJP headquarters on Delhi’s Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg set a high standard in luxury for a party office. Not unlike the office of the CEO of a blue-chip company, the president’s office alone occupies 3,000 square feet. The RSS office in Jhandewalan, Delhi, which is under construction, appears to be modelling itself on the BJP office in terms of size and style. The original Keshav Kunj complex which was demolished in 2016 consisted of three shabby three-storey buildings. Coming up on the site is a corporate style multi-storeyed structure which is to house a vast army of swayamsevaks. Municipal rules have reportedly been relaxed to increase the height of the building. In contrast, the RSS headquarters in Nagpur largely retains its old appearance.