Anita Katyal | When Sushma was forgotten; why Modi mum about Manipur
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi was being feted by US President Joe Biden, his Cabinet colleagues back home are racing against time to complete the “homework” assigned to them before the expiry of the month-end deadline set for them. Tasked with highlighting the Modi government’s achievements over the past nine years, Union ministers and Bharatiya Janata Party chief ministers have been busy addressing press conferences, holding meetings with various citizen groups and organising town halls for this specific purpose. There are days when two or even three ministers hold separate press conferences on the given subject. The urgency is understandable as the ministers have to submit a detailed report about their mass contact programme and its media coverage. Foreign minister S. Jaishankar has no worries on this score as he is easily the most visible minister, receiving extensive press coverage. He began with a long press conference where he was gracious enough to acknowledge the role of the external affairs ministry’s staff, including those who worked behind the scenes. But there was no acknowledgement for his predecessor Sushma Swaraj who steered the ministry for five of the nine years. Incidentally, Mr Jaishankar served as foreign secretary under her for three years.
Responding to the all-round criticism of the Centre’s continuing indifference to the prolonged ethnic violence in Manipur, Union home minister Amit Shah has finally called an all-party meeting on this issue. However, every effort has been made to keep Prime Minister Narendra Modi away from this crisis to underline that this was Mr Shah’s responsibility and he should be left to handle it. The Prime Minister’s silence on the subject has also been attributed to the fact that Mr Modi did not want to be associated with anything negative at a time when he was set for a state visit to the US where President Joe Biden rolled out the red carpet for him. In fact, a discrete message was conveyed to media houses that they steer clear of any negative coverage during Mr Modi’s US sojourn.
When Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was given charge of Uttar Pradesh on joining politics in 2019, it was expected that she would revive the Congress in this electorally-crucial state. Though she made no headway in the electoral arena, she had publicly declared that she was committed to strengthening the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. But, from all accounts, Priyanka appears to have given up on this assignment. She barely visits the state while her involvement with the activities of the party’s state unit is virtually nil. Even her personal team in the state, including the unpopular Sandeep Singh, are planning to close shop. According to the current buzz in the Congress, Priyanka is being prepared for a bigger role in the party organisation. She is also being fielded extensively in election-bound states, making sure she is not confined to one state where she is in the direct line of fire in case of failure. As it happened in Uttar Pradesh.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Rajasthan unit jokingly refers to former chief minister Vasundhara Raje as its Sachin Pilot given her persistent efforts to extract a fair deal for herself in the run-up to the year-end assembly poll. There is no clarity on Ms Raje’s status though she is pushing the leadership to project her as the BJP’s chief ministerial face or ensure that her legislator son Dushyant is rewarded well in case the party comes to power. Congress rebel leader Sachin Pilot finds himself in a similar situation. He is continuously planning his next move since he has been unsuccessful in his mission to replace chief minister Ashok Gehlot. Alternatively, he would like the Congress to declare him as the party’s future chief minister and give him sufficient say in the distribution of tickets in the coming election. Meanwhile, Mr Pilot has asked his staff to reach out to Gehlot supporters and meet workers from their area. Apparently, posters are being prepared which show Mr Pilot with these workers and with Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi to underline that he enjoys the Gandhi family’s support. Mr Pilot also plans to put up these posters close to Mr Gehlot’s hoardings at Jaipur’s prime spots.
While Congress leaders wait anxiously for the announcement on the constitution of the new working committee, insiders bemoan the emergence of multiple power centres in the party. They point out that there was one power centre when Sonia Gandhi was party chief, with her all-powerful political secretary Ahmed Patel handling contentious matters even after Rahul Gandhi became active in the organisation. Today, Congress leaders said, there is a Rahul Gandhi camp, a Priyanka Gandhi coterie, Sonia Gandhi loyalists and party president Mallikarjun Kharge’s supporters. With each one lobbying for the inclusion of his or her own proteges in the party’s highest decision-making body, all-round confusion prevails. Congress members who are not affiliated to any camp are unsure about their future as they believe meritorious leaders will fail to make the cut while coterie politics will continue to thrive.