Delhi Diary/By A K B Krishnan/Gulf Times Correspondent
For what it is worth - not much, one may add - the Congress Party has tied up with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to fight assembly elections in Tamil Nadu which are due in less than three months.
Despite the controversies associated with the rescue and relief efforts in the aftermath of the unprecedented floods in Chennai, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and her All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party are expected to coast to an easy victory. Tamil Nadu is a big state with 234 assembly seats. Only about 30 assembly segments in and around Chennai had to face the flood fury. The government woke up to the disaster a little late but was able to cover a lot of the lost ground and the much-dreaded epidemics were kept well within check.
Although nearly 300 people had died and property worth several billion rupees was damaged, Jayalalithaa’s electoral fortunes should not get affected too much. And she is likely to be backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose Bharatiya Janata Party would be quite happy to play second fiddle and get a foothold in the state’s legislature.
There could be other formations and alliances as well, but as on date there are few who will wager against Jayalalithaa returning to power. She may not repeat her 2011 performance of winning 150 seats on her own for a total of 203 seats for the alliance. The DMK (31 seats) and the Congress (5), on the other hand, could do better this time around, but power should remain with Jayalalithaa.
In West Bengal, the other frontline state which will see elections soon, the Communists and the Congress Party are inching closer to an “understanding” to face the might of Mamata Bannerjee and her Trinamool Congress. That particular combination, if it eventually materialises, may work better than the Congress-DMK combine in the southern state because Bannerjee’s so-called “poribartan” (total change) promise has had only partial success and the law and order situation in West Bengal has seen little change from the dark days of the Marxist era. To boot there have been enough corruption scandals to give even the Congress Party a run for its money!
How the Congress and the Communists will overcome their embarrassment in Kerala, another state where polls are due, if they seal a deal in Kolkata, is for them to sort out. If there are horses for courses, then there can also be strategies for states is probably what the parties must be thinking. Both Congress Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his Marxist rival V S Achuthanandan have been hinting they would go by whatever their respective party’s central leadership decides. If in the bargain the average voter gets the feeling that he/she is being short-changed then that’s his/her problem.
But the problem that the BJP is facing is altogether different from the dilemma of the Congress or the Communists. The Congress had been complaining for quite some time now that Modi and his party have been ignoring its existence. In fact, it had even gone to the extent of saying that much of the standoff in parliament could have been avoided had the BJP treated it with a little more respect. And by that the party means respect of its ‘first family’.
None other than former prime minister Manmohan Singh is on record saying if the BJP wanted “to improve relations with the Congress Party, it’s much more essential than ever before for you to establish contact with the Congress leadership, particularly Soniaji and Rahul Gandhi.”
At least the Congress is frank enough to tell the BJP what it should do to secure its co-operation. But the BJP has more headaches in store. Curiously the source of these headaches is not other political rivals but the BJP’s own long-time friends and allies, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) of Punjab and the Shiv Sena of Maharashtra. As a matter of coincidence, their complaints too reflect sentiments similar to the ones expressed by the Congress - of the BJP’s neglect and indifference.
At last week’s meeting to review the state of the ruling alliance, the SAD minced no words in saying it had enjoyed a much better relationship with the BJP during the Vajpayee regime. The Shiv Sena reportedly told BJP president Amit Shah that without intra-party discussions, which were the hallmark of the previous BJP government, it was difficult to take a common stand on crucial legislations and cited the land acquisition amendment bill as an example. Although it does not have any member in the Lok Sabha, the Republic Party of India (Athvale group) also chimed in with similar concerns.
The restiveness of its partners will not have any impact on the upcoming assembly polls. (Elections to the Punjab assembly are at least a year away and in Maharashtra it will be three years hence). But the fact that these allies have chosen to speak up at a time when it is facing an impasse in the Rajya Sabha, where crucial bills have been held up for two consecutive sessions, could not have been lost on the BJP. Amit Shah has said he would be the nodal link between allies. This should, to an extent, pacify SAD and the Sena because Shah is next only to Modi in the overall setup and has the prime minister’s ear all the time.
That things had drifted to such an extent for the allies to start complaining does not reflect well on the BJP though. Every neutral political analyst in the capital - and this is becoming a rarer commodity by the day! - has been pointing out that the BJP had been consumed by arrogance at its thumping victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The drubbing it received at the hands of Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi did not seem to mitigate that arrogance.
But Bihar 2015 seems to have changed all that. The last two years had all been about Modi - he had even made it a prime minister versus chief minister battle in Bihar. But the BJP, or probably Modi himself, seems to have realised that the persona of one man can take you thus far and no further in today’s India. The very fact that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had to reiterate in his blog that India has a government where “the prime minister has the last word” itself testifies this realisation.
If the BJP has realised that it needs to build consensus with its allies, it could be the first step towards building consensus with the opposition. For the first time the prime minister has called an all-party meeting ahead of the budget session of parliament. This would only do the party, the government and the country at large good in the long run.
Siddaramaiah and his Rs7mn watch
It is not unusual for politicians to get carried away by slogans and pet phrases, especially if they themselves make them. But very often these come back to haunt them at a later date.
Amit Shah’s casual remark that the promise of depositing Rs1.5mn in every Indian’s bank account with the amount recovered from ‘black’ money hoarders was an “election jumla” (election stunt) had given many an embarrassing moment for the party. Arvind Kejriwal would not admit it now but he had sworn from many public platforms that ‘swaraj’ (self-rule) was the be-all and end-all of his life’s mission. But he dismissed several of his party’s top leaders when they wanted ‘swaraj.’
Rahul Gandhi had claimed instant applause in parliament when he described the Modi government as a “suit-boot ki sarkar”. That was after Modi wore a suit reportedly costing Rs1mn when he went to meet visiting US President Barack Obama. But little did Gandhi expect that one of his own chief ministers would one day embarrass him by wearing a watch that, according to some reports, is worth Rs7mn!
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has been sporting not one but two expensive watches - an all-gold Rolex and an Audimars Piguet - and the opposition wants to know where he got them from. A man from humble beginnings, Siddaramaiah had always been seen in public wearing very modest, traditional clothes. Last year he had declared he only had Rs200,000 in cash and the total worth of his household goods was around Rs150,000.
But suddenly he started wearing Louis Vuitton shoes and Rolexes. He said they were gifts, but here again he courted trouble because he was supposed to declare all valuable gifts and he had not done so. Also, who was it that gave him such expensive gifts? Was there a quid-pro-quo involved?
Modi had auctioned off his suit for a massive Rs43mn and had donated the money towards cleaning the river Ganges. Perhaps Rahul Gandhi can ask Siddaramaiah to do an encore for the many dirty lakes in Bengaluru!
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