Inner-party democracy in the Congress could well prove to be the first casualty of the outcome of the state Assembly elections declared last Sunday. The Congress was originally scheduled to elect its new president in May but the election was deferred till June on the pretext of the Assembly polls. Rahul Gandhi’s camp followers had hoped that a credible performance in these polls would make it easier for the Nehru-Gandhi scion to return as Congress chief. However, Rahul Gandhi’s failure to make any impact in these polls has silenced his supporters and led to speculation that the internal election for the party president’s post could be further delayed. Congress insiders do not rule out the possibility that Rahul Gandhi himself may decline to take over the party’s reins. Then there is a section in the party that wants a non-Gandhi to head the Congress. But it is said Sonia Gandhi is not keen on this option and would prefer to continue as interim president till her son is ready to return as Congress chief.
It now transpires that BJP leaders in West Bengal had informed the Central leadership about its failure to defeat the Trinamul Congress days before the prolonged poll campaign drew to its close. A few state leaders even admitted as much in private conversations to media-persons in Kolkata. Nevertheless, an optimistic BJP had lined up its senior ministers for media sound bytes and interviews on the day of the results. As seen on earlier occasions, it would not have been surprising if Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah had come forth to exult over the result. As it happened, there was radio silence from the ministers while word was put out that Mr Modi and his ministers were busy handling the coronavirus pandemic. It was eventually left to the tried and tested BJP spokespersons like Amit Malviya and Sambit Patra to put a gloss on the party’s performance. They did try to put down Mamata Banerjee over her defeat in Nandigram but were constrained from getting too jubilant as Mamata Banerjee’s failure to win her own seat was totally eclipsed by her party’s emphatic victory in the Assembly polls. The BJP drew solace from the fact that it now occupies the Opposition space in West Bengal and that the Congress and the Left parties have been vanquished.
The BJP may be bemoaning the Assembly election results but the party’s failure to dethrone Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal has come as a huge relief for Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Had the party succeeded, his chief rivals in the state — Kailash Vijayvargiya and Narotttam Mishra — would have actively campaigned for Mr Chouhan’s ouster. Mr Vijayvargiya was handpicked by home minister Amit Shah to supervise the West Bengal election while Mishra was also given key responsibilities in the eastern state. A victory in West Bengal would have automatically given a boost to their ratings in the party and emboldened them to resume their campaign against Mr Chouhan. Both Mr Vijayvargiya and Mr Mishra are eyeing the chief minister’s post in Madhya Pradesh.
The Capital’s political grapevine is rife with speculation that Delhi lieutenant general Anil Baijal is on his way out. Though Mr Baijal is an old Delhi hand and a favourite with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Centre is said to be of the view that Mr Baijal’s tenure has run its course. According to the buzz in Delhi, the Modi government was also dissatisfied as it felt Mr Baijal had been unsuccessful in checkmating the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party. Several names are doing the rounds regarding Mr Baijal’s successor. Former Puducherry lieutenant general Kiran Bedi is among those who figures in this list. If this proves to be true, it would be interesting to see how Ms Bedi and Delhi chief minister will work together. The two were among the leading faces of the 2011 anti-corruption movement but Ms Bedi subsequently left and joined the BJP following differences with Mr Kejriwal and others.
Former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and her nephew Jyotiraditya Scindia figured in the list of star campaigners in the recent Assembly elections. While Vasundhara Raje was expected to campaign for the bye-elections in the desert state, newly minted BJP member Mr Scindia was put down for the crucial West Bengal polls. However, Vasundhara Raje failed to turn up for the campaign. It is an acknowledged fact that she is sulking because a concerted effort has been made by the BJP’s Delhi leaders to marginalise her ever since she lost the last Assembly election. The party wants to promote a fresh leadership in Rajasthan and end its dependence on Vasundhara. With his aunt backing out, the BJP deputed Mr Scindia to take her place on the campaign trail in Rajasthan. Despite his estranged aunt’s absence, the election results showed that Mr Scindia did help the BJP win one of the three bye-elections.