In addition to herding 44 Gujarat legislators to a resort in Bengaluru, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel made every possible effort to reach out to other MLAs before his Rajya Sabha election last week. Besides visiting fence-sitting legislators at their homes, Mr Patel also made it a point to call rebel Congress leader Shankarsinh Vaghela to seek his support even after he walked out of the party along with six lawmakers. Mr Vaghela assured Mr Patel that he would vote for him. It is a different story that Mr Vaghela was quick to go back on his word. Mr Vaghela has been expelled from the Congress. The buzz is that Mr Vaghela is going to float his own party and contest the Assembly polls in partnership with the NCP whose president Sharad Pawar is going to bankroll his campaign. The BJP is only too happy as a division in the votes will work to its advantage. Mr Vaghela believes that if he can win 20-25 seats, he can be kingmaker.
The death of BJP’s Lok Sabha member from Ajmer Sanwar Lal Jat, which will necessitate a bypoll, is being seen as an opportunity for the Congress. This is so as the Congress consistently maintains that its campaign against the Vasundhara Raje government is a big success. In fact, it is also being said that Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot, who lost to a Jat in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, should be fielded to send out a strong message. Needless to say that it is Mr Pilot’s detractors who are making a strong case for his candidature. for the bypoll. But senior Congress leaders maintain that the party cannot take such a risk as a defeat for its state unit chief would prove to be counter-productive.
Besides handling their own portfolios, ministries are also being pushed to implement Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat, GST rollout, Make in India and Skill India. Each ministry has been instructed to hold weekly meetings to monitor these schemes. The feedback is then forwarded to the PMO. As a result, ministries are unable to devote much time to their work as officials are busy collating material from industry representatives and civil groups. While industry representatives are quick to provide information, bureaucrats often struggle to explain how they are implementing these schemes. It is the same story with the GST rollout. Industry representatives were being pressured to give details of success stories barely 10 days after it was introduced.
Ever since textiles minister Smriti Irani was given additional charge of the information and broadcasting ministry, she has evinced considerable interest in this portfolio. She has been holding regular meetings with officials and has lost no time in issuing instructions. Ms Irani is also keeping a sharp eye on mediapersons who are not ideologically aligned with the BJP government. If the Delhi grapevine is to be believed, the ministry has even prepared dossiers on such journalists and is waiting for them to err. Ms Irani is keeping up this pace in the hope that she will be moved to the IB ministry. The biggest loser here has been minister of state Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore whose role has gradually shrunk. When finance minister Arun Jaitley held additional charge of this ministry, he had delegated most of his work to Mr Rathore. This changed when the media-savvy M. Venkaiah Naidu took over this ministry and now that Ms Irani is in-charge, there is even less scope for Mr Rathore to hit the headlines.