While the Narendra Modi government has succeeded in eliciting the support of the mainstream Indian media on its decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and divide the state into two Union territories, it has been unable to convince the foreign media. Unlike the Indian media, the foreign press has been extremely critical of the government’s decision in its reportage and has disputed the official claim that everything is normal in the Valley by consistently drawing attention to the communication lockdown and the problems being faced by ordinary citizens in accessing basic facilities. This has obviously not gone down well with the Indian government but officials are at their wit’s end as they have failed to change the narrative abroad despite their best efforts. In fact, officials from the external affairs and defence ministries have, over the past two months, gone all out to convey the government’s viewpoint to foreign media-persons but to little avail. The government was hoping that the visit of European Union MPs to the Kashmir Valley would help to shift the focus from human rights violations to the proxy war being waged in the state by Pakistan. However, this move also backfired thanks to the involvement of “international business broker” Madi Sharma in facilitating this visit. This has led to a lot of chatter in BJP circles about the identity of the person who organised this visit through Ms Sharma. Some say it is party leader Ram Madhav while others maintain it is national security advisor Ajit Doval's son, Shaurya Doval, who runs a think tank.
The Congress decision to protest the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bangkok was taken at a lengthy meeting of senior party leaders which witnessed a heated discussion. There were some reservations about opposing the RCEP as the trade pact was initiated by the Manmohan Singh government. Anand Sharma, who handled this subject in his capacity as the commerce minister, is stated to have pointed this out but eventually, it was agreed that the Congress should not be apologetic about its past role. Those who favoured the party’s proposal to oppose the trade agreement argued that the country’s economic situation has worsened from the time the RCEP was first proposed and that the Congress must pin down the Modi government by highlighting how this move will prove ruinous for the economy. The recent announcement by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, opposing the RCEP was also a major factor. The Congress felt that if it failed to put up a fight, it would end up conceding the opposition space to the RSS, which would eventually work to the BJP's advantage.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to take off on yet another trip abroad has left his party colleagues red-faced. Party spokespersons are hard put to explain the Nehru- Gandhi scion’s hands-off approach and his penchant for disappearing at a critical juncture. Doing their best to cover for him, Congress leaders have been at pains to point out that it is incorrect to say that Rahul Gandhi has lost interest in party affairs and that he was instrumental in planning and finalising the party's nationwide agitation programme being launched from November 5 to 15 to expose the Modi government’s handling of the economy. They also insist that he will be back in time to lead the stir. The last time Rahul Gandhi went abroad was when the Congress was in the midst of preparing for the Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections. He did come back in time to address a few election meetings but was apparently a reluctant campaigner.
The Delhi Assembly election is due only in February but speculation about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s probable chief ministerial candidates has been doing the rounds for some time. While BJP state president Manoj Tewari and former minister Vijay Goel are obvious choices, Union minister for urban development Hardeep Puri is also being mentioned. Puri was recently fielded to announce the Cabinet's decision to regularise unauthorised colonies in Delhi though the official explanation is that he spoke in his capacity as an urban development minister. Puri is a lateral entrant to the BJP but Prime Minister Modi is known to have a soft spot for former bureaucrats. However, BJP insiders said party leader Satish Upadhyay who had virtually gone underground after he was replaced by Manoj Tewari, is back in circulation and also in the reckoning. Upadhyay is learned to have been noticed by the BJP leadership after he organised the felicitation programme for the Prime Minister on his return from his last US trip.