Shashi Tharoor, the high-profile Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, has a penchant for courting controversy. Recently, he was in the eye of a storm when he travelled to Europe last month while his home state Kerala was battling unprecedented floods. Under attack for being missing at such a critical time, Mr Tharoor maintained he had gone to Geneva to lobby for funds for flood-hit Kerala when he had actually gone there to condole with the family of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who passed away recently. Mr Tharoor later joined Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Germany. Despite the flak he received, Mr Tharoor is expected to travel abroad again — this time to England.
But he has taken care to insulate himself against any further criticism as he is scheduled to attend a fundraising event for those affected by floods in Kerala at an upmarket restaurant in London’s Tony Mayfair on September 12. The poster advertising the programme says the evening will begin with a speech by Mr Tharoor and will be followed by drinks and a delicious Kerala meal. The charges: £150 for a ticket.
Bhagat Singh Koshyari, the Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Nainital, has been unhappy with the party leadership after he was denied the chief minister’s post in his home state Uttarakhand over a year ago. Though he has been keeping a low profile since then, Mr Koshyari has now publicly declared that he is not interested in contesting the next Lok Sabha election, thus sending out a clear message to the BJP bosses that he cannot be taken for granted. Realising that Mr Koshyari’s decision could create fissures in the party’s state unit, BJP president Amit Shah has tried to mollify the senior leader but to little avail.
Mr Shah also enlisted the help of shipping and transport minister Nitin Gadkari in this task. The Union minister is learnt to have called on Mr Koshyari twice and conveyed the party’s offer of a governor’s post to him. Mr Koshyari, however, remained unmoved. In fact, the angry MP is said to have told Mr Gadkari that the party is wasting its time and that the BJP chief emissaries would be shown the door if any further attempt is made to placate him.
Though retired and serving bureaucrats and Army officers have joined political parties in the past, this trend is catching up fast now. Recently two retired officers joined the Congress in Chhattisgarh, while the young collector of Raipur put in his papers to enrol with the BJP. The Congress leaders have been surprised by the unusually large number of civil servants who are approaching them for tickets for the year-end Assembly election in Rajasthan. It is said that this list includes officials at different levels and cuts across caste lines. All the applicants profess to endorse the party philosophy and maintain they have been promoting the Congress both directly and indirectly. While this is good news for the Congress as it shows that the party is on a strong wicket in the desert state, the rush of these applications has created a fresh problem for the state leadership. Though the list of candidates is far from finalised, party workers have make it clear to the Congress leaders it would be most unfair if their rightful claims are overlooked in favour of what they describe as “lateral entrants”. The ticket-seeking bureaucrats, they maintain, have been enjoying the fruits of power, while they have been toiling in the field for the party. Clearly, the Congress has a tough choice at hand.
Many Delhiites were taken aback when they were recently contacted on the phone and asked about the political party they would pick in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The callers maintained they were ringing on behalf of a well-known Hindi news channel, which was conducting a survey on the poll prospects of various political parties. When people did not divulge their preferences on the ground that their vote was a secret, the caller persisted and wanted to know if they were uncomfortable about this question and did it mean they did not wish to vote for Narendra Modi. Now that elections are around the corner, it is only to be expected that both political parties and media houses will be commissioning such surveys but it is unusual to seek feedback in this fashion.
However, the line of questioning in this instance points a needle of suspicion to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party as it has an organised set up to track public opinion about the party and the Prime Minister. There are reports that the BJP has converted its old party headquarters on Ashoka Road into a war room for next year’s general election. It is said to be staffed by 200-odd young persons who have been entrusted with the responsibility of analysing poll data, uploading material about the BJP’s achievements on various digital platforms and tracking the Twitter handles of journalists and writers to identify those who are pro or anti-BJP.