Anita Katyal | Sisodia arrest well timed; not Gehlot but Pilot has fun at plenary
DECCAN CHRONICLE | Anita Katyal
The arrest of former Delhi minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Manish Sisodia last week did not come as a surprise as the Centre had been building a case against him for the past several months. Though on expected lines, it was no coincidence that developments in the Manish Sisodia case picked up pace on the day the Congress plenary session was underway in Raipur and Rahul Gandhi was slated to address the gathering that afternoon. The Sisodia arrest was obviously the big news story of the day with television channels providing minute-to-minute coverage of the unfolding drama. The result: The Congress session and Rahul Gandhi’s speech in which he again spoke of the proximity between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and industrialist Gautam Adani was washed out. The Centre apparently learnt a lesson from the Pawan Khera deplaning episode which dominated the channels through the day, providing a ready forum for the Congress to slam the Modi government.
While the recent Congress plenary session in Raipur was business as usual, the scenes witnessed on the sidelines provided an interesting insight into the party’s internal power equations. For instance, the new Himachal Pradesh chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu got a warm hug when he arrived at the airport to receive the Gandhi family. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, in the doghouse ever since his loyalist legislators defied the party’s Central leadership, was cold shouldered. Once a favourite of the Gandhi family, a dejected Mr Gehlot soon excused himself, saying he was unwell, and left for his hotel. His bete noire Sachin Pilot, on the other hand, was seen sharing a laugh with Ajay Maken and Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal. It is no secret that Mr Maken has been pushing for Mr Pilot’s appointment as chief minister. That Mr Pilot’s stock remains high was evident from the fact that he was allotted a room in the same hotel where all senior leaders, including the Gandhis, were staying.
Former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje is known to go into hibernation whenever the Bharatiya Janata Party is in the Opposition. But she emerges from the shadows at the most opportune moment. With elections due in Rajasthan this year-end, it is not surprising that Ms Raje’s hoardings have sprung up outside the BJP office in Jaipur while her supporters planned large-scale celebrations for her birthday on March 4. This show of strength is seen as a message to the BJP’s leadership that given Ms Raje’s large fan following in the party, the leadership can ill-afford to ignore her. Ms Raje obviously wants the party to declare her as its chief ministerial candidate and as a step in that direction, she is lobbying for the post of leader of Opposition in the assembly after her arch-rival Gulab Chand Kataria was appointed governor of Assam. With Ms Raje upping the ante, the BJP leadership finds itself in a spot as it is keen to shed its dependence on Ms Raje and promote an alternative leader in the desert state.
As in the case of former Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, the Congress likes to tout the fact that its current president Mallikarjun Kharge is dalit. However, Mr Kharge has refused to be identified by the party as a dalit. Instead, he prefers being known as a grassroots politician who has risen up the ranks from block president to the top most position in the party despite his humble beginnings. Mr Kharge put down his party colleague Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury at the party’s recent steering committee meeting in Raipur when the latter said those who opposed the decision to nominate members to the Congress Working Committee must have faith in Mr Kharge, who is over 80 years old, dalit and a senior leader. To this, Mr Kharge told Mr Chowdhury pointedly that his identity is not that of a dalit leader but that of a Congress leader who has worked his way up the ladder over the last 50 years. Subsequently, senior leaders who spoke at the Congress plenary session avoided any reference to Mr Kharge's dalit identity though they privately questioned the point of having a dalit party chief, if they cannot play up this fact for electoral gains.
When the Modi government revoked Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the decision was particularly welcomed in the Jammu region, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s stronghold. But three years down the line, disillusionment has set in. There are murmurs in Jammu that the state was better off when Article 370 was in place as it provided several benefits to the residents. The administration’s recent decision to levy property tax, previously not applicable due to the shield provided by Article 370, has led to angry protests both in Kashmir and the Jammu region. This is a matter of concern for the BJP as the business community, comprising its core support base, has raised strong objections to the levy and demanded that the decision be reversed. Already angry that the state has failed to deliver on its promise to generate employment and provide jobs, this latest move, people say, has only added to their burden.