Anita Katyal | PK fiasco dents Priyanka image; Kejriwal calling shots in Punjab?

Kejriwal and Bhagwant Singh recently signed an agreement to enable the 2 state governments to cooperate in various fields of public welfare

The Congress-Prashant Kishor saga continues to be a subject of animated discussion in the party. The entire episode, which played out over several days and ended with the poll strategist declining Sonia Gandhi’s offer to join the party, has obviously embarrassed the Congress. But more than that, it has dented party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi’s image. It is an acknowledged fact that she was insisting that Mr Kishor be invited to join the party and help plan and manage the next round of elections. Priyanka had similarly messed up when she insisted on Navjot Singh Sidhu’s appointment as president of Punjab Congress, triggering a chain of events which eventually proved to be disastrous for the party. Once touted as the Congress Party’s “brahmastra” Priyanka’s track record so far has not been particularly inspiring. Her political choices are being increasingly questioned even by her diehard loyalists in the party who were once convinced Priyanka would be a better alternative than Rahul Gandhi. Well, not anymore.

Delhi and Punjab chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Singh Mann recently signed a “knowledge-sharing” agreement to enable the two state governments to cooperate in various fields of public welfare. This comes shortly after the two chief ministers faced flak when a group of officials from Punjab met Mr Kejriwal in Delhi without Mr Mann. The Opposition immediately dubbed the meeting as “unconstitutional” and accused Mr Kejriwal of running the Punjab government through remote control. This agreement, the Delhi political grapevine insists, is essentially a cover to enable Mr Kejriwal to interact with the Punjab bureaucracy, dictate policy and exercise control over the Mann government without attracting Opposition ire. It is widely believed that Mr Kejriwal cannot and will not allow Mr Mann to function independently as it would enhance the latter’s stature since he heads a larger state.

For the past several years now, ministers in the Narendra Modi government were discouraged from interacting with the media unless they were assigned to do so. Information on their respective ministries was to be conveyed only through official channels, they were told. However, there’s a perceptible change now as ministers are calling up selected groups of press persons for informal briefings.

For instance, last week Mansukh Mandaviya, chemicals and fertilizers ministers, and his colleague power minister R.K. Singh were among those who invited journalists for such a briefing. This can probably be put down to the fact that the country is facing a severe power crisis due to the shortage of coal while Russia’s war in Ukraine has worsened the fertilizer crisis not just in India but across the world. This has forced the government to hike the subsidy on fertilizers to bail out the farming community.

With Naresh Patel, the influential head of the Khodaldham Trust, keeping the Congress guessing about his political future, the party has finally decided to keep its own Patidar leader, Hardik Patel, in good humour. Hardik had been upset at being sidelined and had gone public with his grievances, even suggesting that he could leave the Congress. Gujarat Congress leaders had pinned their hopes on poll strategist Prashant Kishor persuading his good friend Naresh Patel on joining the party as that would have minimised any damage from Hardik's possible defection. Now that talks with Kishor have fallen through and Naresh Patel has said he is still 'thinking' about his political debut, Gujarat Congress leaders have gone into damage control mode. Realising the party has lost precious time in Gujarat where both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party are already in campaign mode, a fresh outreach to Hardik has begun. Last week, Gujarat Congress chief Jagdish Thakor and other leaders put in an appearance at a function to mark Hardik Patel’s father’s death anniversary. Hardik has apparently been assured he will be kept in the loop on all key decisions in the future. However, this may yet fail to placate Hardik as he wants sufficient say in ticket distribution.

After sulking for the past two years, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda finally pressured the Congress leadership to replace his bete noire Kumari Selja with his protégé Udai Bhan as the president of the party’s state unit.

The initial proposal was to give charge of Haryana Congress to Mr Hooda but the latter was reluctant to give up his current position as leader of opposition in the state Assembly. The next big question is whether Mr Hooda will flex his muscles when it comes to picking the party’s candidate for the Rajya Sabha when elections are held this August following the retirement of two Upper House members from Haryana. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are set to get one seat each. It is being speculated that Ms Selja could be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha provided Hooda doesn’t nix the proposal. Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma, who is looking to return to the Rajya Sabha after his retirement, also has his eye on the upcoming Haryana vacancy. Mr Sharma is at an advantage here as he is a close friend of Hooda.

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