With Rahul at helm, no changes in Akbar Road
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.