Mamata scores, but Rahul fails to unite
The newly-appointed Congress general secretary, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, was slated to take charge last Thursday when she was to attend her first meeting of party office-bearers. However, she stumped everyone, including her security personnel, when she decided to visit the Akbar Road party headquarters a day earlier. She dropped in at the office after accompanying her husband Robert Vadra to the office of the Enforcement Directorate which had called him in for questioning in connection with the ownership of properties abroad. After making a point that she stood by her husband, Ms Vadra clearly wanted to send out a message that she was unfazed by these developments and that it was business as usual.
But there was chaos and confusion at the party office as no one was aware of her arrival. Most of the office bearers, who would have otherwise lined up to welcome her, were missing. Even veteran Congress leader Motilal Vora, who visits his office regularly, was not present. Nevertheless, word got around and, in true Congress style, the place was soon swarming with sycophantic party workers.
Though Opposition parties, which are coming together to battle the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have, of late, shown a degree of willingness to work with Congress president Rahul Gandhi, they remain averse to the Nehru-Gandhi scion stealing the limelight. This is exactly what happened last week when a host of Opposition leaders met in the Capital to discuss various issues on which they can work together. Realising that he is on test, the Congress president is learned to have been sufficiently deferential to veteran leaders like Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and was equally courteous to second-rung leaders of other parties who participated in the deliberations.
After hearing everyone out, the Congress president suggested that the Opposition camp highlight those issues on which there is unanimity among them while leaving out contentious subjects. It was, therefore, decided that jobs crisis, agrarian distress and destruction of institutions by the Modi government would be areas focussed upon. A suggestion by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that they should also highlight the issue of communalism was brushed aside. Addressing the media later, Mr Gandhi even urged Mr Pawar to speak about farm crisis, but he declined. Nevertheless, both Mr Pawar and Mr Naidu felt the need to talk to the press the next day about the same meeting. Either they did not want Mr Gandhi to emerge as the default leader of this grouping or they felt he was unable to put across his views with sufficient clarity.
Having succeeded in securing support of all regional parties during her brief standoff with the Centre, West Bengal chief minister and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee gleefully announced at the end of her threeday dharna that the parties will now take their battle to Delhi. The entire Opposition bloc is planning to sit on a similar dharna in the capital in the coming week. According to preliminary reports, Congress chief ministers Amarinder Singh, Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel are expected to join. But there has been some debate about the format of this protest. Since she has developed a warm rapport with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the Trinamul chief is keen that he join the sit-in. But Congress leaders are not happy to be seen in his company. As a way out, it is being suggested that there should be a relay protest and that leaders take turns to sit on dharna. This will ensure full attendance and also avert any awkward situation.
Adinner hosted by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar last week at his residence turned out to be an occasion to show that the veteran leader has the ability to make friends across the political divide The guest list included BJP ministers Prakash Javadekar, Nitin Gadkari and Kiren Rijiju, Left leaders Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav, a large contingent of Trinamul MPs, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel and Bhupinder Singh Hooda and DMK's Kanimozhi. Mr Pawar's daughter and Lok Sabha MP Supriya Sule, who played the perfect hostess, took care to invite her friends from Gen Next, including former Congress ministers R.P.N. Singh and Jitin Prasada. From all accounts, it was a pleasant evening with good music, delicious food and easy conversation. But after enjoying Mr Pawar's generous hospitality, all the guests were left asking one question: What was the purpose of this dinner? The overwhelming view is that perhaps Mr Pawar is reaching out to friends and opponents in a bid to position himself as a prime ministerial candidate.