Of bhoots & monkeys

Mr Gadkari was offered the Indore seat but the former BJP chief was adamant
While politicians of all hues are busy sweating it out on the campaign trail, this is the first election in many decades that President Pranab Mukherjee is not involved with. In fact, he is happy to be watching from the sidelines as he waits for the results to be declared on May 16 for it is only then that he will come into the picture. Even as the campaign for the 2014 Lok Sabha poll has entered a decisive phase, Mr Mukherjee is keeping himself occupied with his reading and other sundry activities. Last week, a special screening of the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Bhoothnath Returns was organised at the Rashtrapati Bhavan auditorium for a select audience. The choice was apt as the film urges people to go out and cast their vote if they are serious about ushering in change. The President followed it up with a relaxed, quiet dinner with Mr Bachchan, who was accompanied by his daughter Shweta. The Bollywood superstar and Mr Mukherjee had a long chat about Indian democracy, the need for everyone to vote and the performances in the film, especially the outstanding child actor. It can be safely assumed that the conversation steered clear of Mr Bachchan’s old association with the Congress Party’s first family and their subsequent estrangement which continues to be a subject of animated discussion on the capital’s hyperactive political grapevine.
It may sound crazy but reports from poll-bound Himachal Pradesh suggest that the political discourse here is not dominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi’s, leadership or his Gujarat model of development but the monkey menace in the hill state. The farmers here are at their wits’ end as they find their crops being regularly destroyed by the growing population of monkeys. Well aware that this is a burning issue, Congress leaders make it a point to refer to it in their election speeches to their rural audience who are particularly hit by this menace. The standard argument trotted out by them is that the much-talked about Mr Modi’s charisma and development plans are all very well but they are not going to solve the pressing problem of marauding monkeys. On the contrary, they underline, the monkey menace will only get worse if the BJP comes to power as it will not allow any measures to be taken to either control the population of the simians or relocate them because the saffron party reveres monkeys as they are viewed as the incarnation of God Hanuman.
Ever since he returned from a gruelling election campaign, former Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari never stops talking about his maiden foray into electoral politics at the national level. He says he decided to contest his first Lok Sabha poll as he was constantly taunted by his opponents that he was only a state leader. Taking up the challenge in all seriousness, Mr Gadkari decided to fight it out from his hometown Nagpur, which is a known Congress bastion even though the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are located here. Mr Gadkari maintains that several senior BJP leaders and even RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat warned him of Nagpur and repeatedly asked him to contest from a “safe” constituency. In fact, Mr Gadkari was offered the Indore seat but the former BJP chief was adamant that unlike his other colleagues who were on the lookout for a safe seat (an indirect jibe at his successor Rajnath Singh who moved from Ghaziabad to Lucknow) he would only contest from Nagpur although it was considered a tough seat for his party. It is now to be seen if Mr Gadkari will be able to silence his critics when the election results come out as he was battling both seven-term Congress MP Vilas Muttemwar and social activist Anjali Damania of the Aam Aadmi Party.
If Nitin Gadkari is anxiously awaiting the results of his first Lok Sabha election, his chief political opponent Vilas Muttemwar is equally nervous despite the fact that he has held the seat for seven terms. In fact, Mr Mu-ttemwar was so jittery that he literally saw red when he heard that Satpal Maharaj, who crossed over from the Congress to the Bharatiya Janata Party only recently, had been invited by
Mr Gadkari to campaign for him in Nagpur since the self-styled spiritual guru from Uttarakhand has a large fan following in the Maharashtrian city. A fuming Mr Muttemwar called up Satpal Maharaj and ticked him for first leaving the party for personal gain and then going a step further by campaigning against his old Congress friends. Mr Muttemwar’s angry tirade had the desired impact as a sheepish Satpal Maharaj agreed to call off his scheduled trip to Nagpur. This time it was Mr Gadkari’s turn to see red. Clearly, the battle for Nagpur is a high-stakes’ contest
for the Congress and the BJP leaders.
As it becomes increasingly clear that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance will be forming the next government, Delhi is already rife with speculation about the fate of key bureaucrats and governors appointed by the United Progressive Alliance government. Several governors are said to be on the BJP’s hit list. Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal completes her term in November but the new regime may replace her even sooner given her running feud with chief minister and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who was appointed governor to Kerala, shortly before the Lok Sabha polls were announced, is unlikely to be retained by the NDA government. Karnataka governor Hansraj Bhardwaj, who was in the eye of a storm for playing an unusually pro-active role in state politics, will also see an early exit. Occupants of several other Raj Bhavans, including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh, will be changed as they will be completing their five-year term by this year-end.
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist
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