With Rahul at helm, no changes in Ak­bar Road

The Asian Age - - Edit - Anita Katyal The writer is a Delhi- based jour­nal­ist

Hav­ing lost two by­polls to the Congress last year, Mad­hya Pradesh chief min­is­ter Shivraj Singh Chouhan is un­der­stand­ably keen on deny­ing his po­lit­i­cal ri­val another vic­tory in the next round of byelections due in the next few months. Mr Chouhan is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in wrest­ing the seats of Ko­laras and Mun­gaoli as th­ese are lo­cated in Guna district, Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia’s strong­hold. Not only has he de­ployed Mr Scin­dia’s chief bête noire, BJP Ra­jya Sabha MP Prab­hat Jha, to cam­paign in th­ese con­stituen­cies for the by­polls, the chief min­is­ter has also asked state min­is­ter Yashod­hara Scin­dia to take charge of the elec­tions. Mr Chouhan be­lieves that as Mr Scin­dia’s aunt, Ms Scin­dia, will be far more ef­fec­tive in build­ing a cam­paign against a mem­ber of the erst­while royal fam­ily of Gwalior, es­pe­cially in its back­yard. It would also dis­pel the pre­vail­ing per­cep­tion that though es­tranged, the Scin­dia fam­ily mem­bers have a tacit un­der­stand­ing that they never cam­paign against each other. How­ever, Ms Scin­dia has not taken the bait. She has evinced lit­tle in­ter­est in th­ese by­polls and shown no in­cli­na­tion to visit the poll- bound con­stituen­cies so far. Ap­par­ently, she is nurs­ing a grudge against Mr Chouhan for di­vest­ing her of the in­dus­tries min­istry two years ago.

When Rahul Gandhi fi­nally took over as Congress pres­i­dent, it was ex­pected that his long- awaited el­e­va­tion would gen­er­ate a flurry of ac­tiv­ity at the party head­quar­ters on Ak­bar Road. How­ever, that’s not to be. Ex­cept for a lim­ited dis­play of ini­tial en­thu­si­asm, the Congress of­fice once again bears a de­serted look. As in the old days, rows of locked rooms greet vis­i­tors while lost party work­ers roam around the premises try­ing in vain to lo­cate their lead­ers. There are few ex­cep­tions like Congress trea­surer Moti­lal Vora, party gen­eral- sec­re­tary Ja­nar­dan Dwivedi and the younger R. P. N. Singh who visit the party of­fice reg­u­larly. But most of the other of­fice bear­ers, in­clud­ing the army of party sec­re­taries ap­pointed by Mr Gandhi, are barely seen at the party of­fice. Mr Gandhi him­self cre­ated a flut­ter in party cir­cles re­cently over his visit to Bahrain. Congress mem­bers from poll- bound Kar­nataka even con­veyed their un­hap­pi­ness to se­nior party lead­ers in Delhi as they felt that Mr Gandhi’s trip abroad would send out a wrong mes­sage at elec­tion time — that the Congress chief had not changed and con­tin­ued to re­gard pol­i­tics as a part- time pro­fes­sion. Mr Gandhi’s aides had a tough time con­vinc­ing them that the party pres­i­dent had gone on an of­fi­cial visit and not a plea­sure trip.

Now that Bharatiya Janata Party pres­i­dent Amit Shah has be­come a Ra­jya Sabha mem­ber, it is only to be ex­pected that party MPs and other vis­i­tors are flock­ing to him for an au­di­ence. Since Mr Shah does not have an of­fice in the Par­lia­ment House, he has set up base in rail­way min­is­ter Piyush Goyal’s room. It is prov­ing to be a con­ve­nient ar­range­ment as Mr Goyal has a big of­fice along with an ante- room, which comes in handy to ac­com­mo­date the large num­ber of vis­i­tors who drop in. And since the cater­ing fa­cil­i­ties in the Par­lia­ment House are run by the In­dian Rail­ways, there is an end­less sup­ply of tea and snacks for vis­i­tors. Be­fore Mr Shah started his term as a Ra­jya Sabha mem­ber, there was a lot of spec­u­la­tion about the room he would oc­cupy. There was talk that veteran party leader L. K. Ad­vani’s room in the Par­lia­ment House may be al­lot­ted to him. But that project ap­pears to have been put on hold for the time be­ing. Since Mr Shah is not a min­is­ter or leader of the House, he can­not get a min­is­te­rial room, but has to be ac­com­mo­dated in the rooms al­lot­ted to the BJP. Mr Goyal is not com­plain­ing about the present ar­range­ment. This has given him an op­por­tu­nity to get close to Mr Shah. In fact, Mr Goyal is al­ways seen es­cort­ing Mr Shah around the Par­lia­ment House, much to the cha­grin of his col­leagues.

Al­though the gov­ern­ment is putting up a brave face about the rag­ing con­tro­versy over Aad­haar, it is se­ri­ously wor­ried about the ad­verse fall- out of this pub­lic wran­gle. Con­se­quently, at least half- a- dozen se­nior min­is­ters held a marathon ses­sion last week to dis­cuss the ques­tions raised by pub­lic and how th­ese should be ad­dressed. This has be­come even more im­por­tant as the fi­nal hear­ing on the va­lid­ity of the Aad­haar scheme is com­ing up in the Supreme Court later this month.

The par­tic­i­pants at this three­hour meet­ing in­cluded law min­is­ter Ravi Shankar Prasad, health min­is­ter J. P. Nadda, petroleum min­is­ter Dhar­men­dra Prad­han and oth­ers whose min­istries use Aad­haar for dol­ing out sub­si­dies. It was agreed that the gov­ern­ment would as­sure the Supreme Court that peo­ple who do not pos­sess an Aad­haar card would not be de­nied ac­cess to pub­lic ser­vices and that the gov­ern­ment is only us­ing this scheme to make sure that sub­si­dies reach the ben­e­fi­cia­ries di­rectly, without the in­volve­ment of any in­ter­me­di­aries.

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