Anita Katyal | Gandhis mum on Kharge milestone; Dhami goes Yogi on Kumaon babu
Mallikarjun Kharge, the first non-Gandhi to head the Congress in 25 years, completed one year in office last week. The official X handle of the Congress put out a lengthy congratulatory tweet, describing him as a fearless and visionary leader, who has risen through the ranks and embodies the virtues of the party like secularism, inclusive growth and patriotism. However, there was no message forthcoming from Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, considering Mr Kharge is known for his loyalty to the Gandhi family. In fact, he was picked for the Congress presidency precisely for that reason. Mr Kharge, on his part, has been doing a neat balancing act over the past year. He has been taking decisions, connecting with the Congress rank and file and generally fixing the glitches in the party organisation. At the same time, he has been treading carefully, making sure he is not seen to be too independent or too visible so as to overshadow the Gandhi family.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and its partners appear to be pulling in different directions on the Opposition’s demand for a nationwide caste census. While the BJP has been quiet on this issue for fear of alienating its upper caste voters, their partners, like the two factions of the Lok Janshakti Party, Anupriya Patel’s Apna Dal, Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party and Om Prakash Rajbhar of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, are said to be consulting each other to firm up their strategy on responding to the INDIA bloc’s caste census push. Leaders of these caste-based parties believe, while the BJP can offset any possible electoral damage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal, their parties will have a tough time in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in countering the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and the Congress. They are convinced they must go public with their unqualified support for a nationwide caste count. However, there is no consensus among them on how this should be done because they don’t want to be seen to be opposing the BJP on an important political issue.
All accounts from Madhya Pradesh suggest that Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, who defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party from the Congress three years ago, is finding it tough to ensure the victory of his loyalists in the forthcoming Assembly polls. There was time when the Gwalior dynast’s candidates, popularly known as “Mahal ke Ummidvaar”, were accepted without question. But this is no longer the case. People on the street now openly declare that “Mahal ke farmaan sunane ke din ab gaye”. It is pointed out that when Mr Scindia himself was unable to retain his Guna seat (he was defeated in the 2019 Lok Sabha election), how could his loyalists hope to do better. There is also anger among his camp followers as many of them have been denied tickets by the BJP and Mr Scindia found himself helpless in pleading their case. Mr Scindia’s defection to the BJP leading to the collapse of the Kamal Nath government, has not gone down well with the electorate. If Scindia supporters still manage to win, it will be primarily because the choice of candidates fielded by the Congress in the Gwalior Chambal region has been found to be uninspiring.
While on the subject of Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls, there is some confusion about the current status of relations between former chief ministers and proclaimed buddies Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh. There was talk recently that the two were at odds with each other when Kamal Nath told ticket seekers that they should haul up Mr Singh if they failed to make the cut. Both leaders later dismissed this as a joke, indulging in a back-and-forth banter at a press conference called for the release of the Congress election manifesto. But there is fresh talk that the two leaders are not on the same page regarding the distribution of tickets and accommodating Samajwadi Party candidates. Kamal Nath apparently dismissed any such suggestion, which led to tensions in the INDIA bloc with Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav describing the Congress as arrogant. Digvijaya Singh, on the other hand, remarked privately that he had suggested that the Congress should accommodate the Samajwadi Party by giving them four seats. Clearly, Kamal Nath is in no mood to defer to his old friend. Or is it a classic case of playing good cop, bad cop.
Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami faces a serious problem. People in the state tend to dismiss him as a lightweight and are constantly comparing him to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. In fact, they are all praise for Yogi, describing him as a strong leader who does not shy away from taking tough decisions. But Mr Dhami appears to have redeemed himself when he ticked off Kumaon division commissioner Deepak Rawat at a recent meeting. A video clip, which shows Mr Dhami pulling up the bureaucrat, has gone viral and become a talking point in the state. The general view is that it was high time Mr Dhami started asserting himself and it was good a beginning had been made in this regard.