In their own ways, both former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh and Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor got played in the ongoing election of the next Congress president. Clearly nudged by party president Sonia Gandhi, Mr Singh suddenly jumped into the fray and was all set to file his nomination papers. But the proverbial rug was pulled from under his feet when overnight, the Gandhis decided that veteran leader Mallikarjun Kharge was a more suitable candidate. According to Congress insiders, this last-minute change took place after several party members called up Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi to express their unhappiness over Mr Singh’s candidature and warned that he would prove to be a liability to the party. Mr Singh was left red-faced as he had asked several delegates from Madhya Pradesh to be present in Delhi when he filed his nomination papers. All those who arrived in Delhi for this occasion eventually ended up standing in Mr Kharge’s support. On his part, Mr Tharoor was expecting the support of several G-23 leaders, including Anand Sharma and Manish Tewari, after he spoke to them about his decision to contest for the party presidency. None of them opposed his decision but on the critical day of filing nominations, they all feigned surprise and instead supported Mr Kharge’s candidature.
Once it became clear that Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot was not in the fray for the election of the next Congress president, a host of names started doing the rounds. Former Haryana Congress chief Kumari Selja was among those who figured in the list of possible contenders. While this was all in the realm of speculation, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda apparently got extremely agitated about the possibility of Ms Selja being favoured by the Gandhis for the party presidency given his longstanding rivalry with her. It is learnt that Mr Hooda was so incensed that he even planned to contest the polls himself. He was encouraged by his camp followers who said they would personally fetch the nomination papers for him. Mr Hooda must have heaved a sigh of relief now that Ms Selja is not in the race.
As in the case of the yet-to-be elected Congress president, Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde’s stint in power is also believed to be a stop-gap arrangement. According to the political grapevine in Mumbai, the Bharatiya Janata Party is essentially awaiting the election of the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The BJP is depending on Mr Shinde to wrest control of the corporation from the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena. If the BJP succeeds in its endeavour, it is entirely possible that it will then ask Mr Shinde to relinquish the chief minister’s post, leaving him no choice but to accept a role as a junior partner. On his part, Mr Shinde is working assiduously to take full control of the Shiv Sena so that he can legitimately claim to be the real Sena. To this end, he spends his time travelling and meeting workers across the state while governance has been outsourced to a retired bureaucrat and a favoured civilian. But deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is not complaining as he gets to call the shots.
The recent meeting between RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and representatives of the Muslim community has created quite a few ripples. Shahid Siddiqui, vice-president of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, who was among the five who interacted with Mr Bhagwat, was all praise for the RSS chief, described the meeting as pleasant and said it was important to keep the dialogue alive. It would be interesting to know if RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary is in agreement with Mr Siddiqui and whether he was aware of this meeting. The RLD is currently in the Opposition camp but Mr Siddiqui’s positive remarks about Mr Bhagwat has led to murmurs that this could signal the start of new political equations in Uttar Pradesh. On the other hand, Abdul Khalique, secretary general in Chirag Paswan’s faction of the Lok Janshakti Party, has blasted the five Muslim representatives who met Mr Bhagwat. Unlike Mr Chaudhary, Chirag Paswan is positively inclined towards the BJP despite the fact that it engineered a split in the LJP. What does the young Paswan have to say about Khalique’s outburst, is the question doing the rounds.
Netas and abhinetas in Kolkata are in for a tough time this Puja. For no one is a VIP now. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has decreed that VIPs will be designated as invitees and that puja committees will not make special arrangements for them. Being designated a VIP was critical for hopping from pandal to pandal and avoiding long queues to see the newest version of the goddess. The biggest and most novel "theme" pujas are mostly Trinamul Congress pujas, as these committees are headed by big time netas. But many organisers are struggling to keep the celebrations going this year as netas are not spending as generously as they did in the past for fear of a crackdown....