It is an acknowledged fact that senior Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh managed to corner the bulk of tickets for his supporters in the recently-concluded Assembly elections. So Digvijay Singh had sufficient reason to smile when the results came in and the Congress edged out the three-term Shivraj Singh Chouhan government. In fact, the senior leader has not stopped smiling since then. While the tussle for the chief minister’s post was going on in Delhi, a relaxed Digvijay Singh dropped in at Bhopal famous Coffee House with his son and grandson and spent hours chatting with local mediapersons. Though Digvijay Singh had kept a low profile during the election campaign and it was believed he had been marginalised by Congress president Rahul Gandhi, he sent out an unmistakable message that he is a force to reckon with in his home state. At least 30-odd newly-elected legislators “coincidentally” landed up at the Coffee House while Digvijay Singh was there. They came armed with flowers and sweets, to seek Digvijay Singh’s blessings in what was clearly a show of strength by the former chief minister.
Unlike Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot, who had every reason to press his case for the chief minister’s post, his colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia was on a relatively weaker wicket. Though Mr Scindia put in his best during the election campaign and worked harmoniously with Madhya Pradesh Congress president Kamal Nath and former chief minister Digvijay Singh, he eventually lost out to Mr Nath. Mr Scindia may have been in with a chance if he had agreed to take up the challenge of heading the party’s state unit way back in 2009. The proposal was even endorsed by Arjun Singh. But Mr Scindia stepped back at the last minute as he was a junior minister then in the Manmohan Singh government. Had he taken up the post then, he would have had a rightful claim to the chief minister’s kursi now. Mr Pilot, on the other hand, moved to Jaipur five years ago when he was given charge of the party state unit and devoted himself to resurrecting the party in Rajasthan.
The tussle for the posts of chief ministers in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh led to a divide between the Congress old guard and the younger leaders. It even created a split within families. For instance, Congress Rohtak MP Deepender Singh Hooda was in a dilemma. While his father and former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was rooting for Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot because of his long-term association with them, Hooda junior was pitching for Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot because of his friendship with them. When his father said he would like to attend the swearing-in ceremonies of the senior leaders, Deepender Hooda made it clear that he could not possibly accompany him if his friends were overlooked for the top job.
All roads led to industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s Mumbai residence last week as the country’s who’s who descended there for his daughter Isha’s wedding to Anand Piramal. From industry captains and politicians to Bollywood’s leading stars, all were in attendance. While the BJP contingent included Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Piyush Goyal, Smriti Irani and its chief ministers, the Congress was represented by P. Chidambaram, Anand Sharma and Ahmed Patel, to name a few. West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee and N. Chandrababu Naidu also put in an appearance. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to give the wedding a miss. His absence did not go unnoticed as everyone wondered why Mr Modi stayed away, considering he attended the wedding reception of Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas in Delhi a week earlier. In fact, Congress leaders were also eager to point out that Mr Modi had wound up his election campaign in Rajasthan hurriedly so he could make it to Delhi in time. In the process, they said, he even forgot to pay respects at BJP veteran Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s samadhi even though he was in the vicinity that day.
As everyone headed to Mumbai for what has been described as the “wedding of the year”, several leaders of rival political parties found themselves travelling on the same flight. A senior Congress leader, for instance, had textiles minister Smriti Irani and her husband Zubin Irani as his co-passengers. Venturing to offer some friendly advice to the minister’s husband, the Congress leader told him: “Usko bolo thoda kum ghoome aur thoda kum bole.” Taking the comment in his stride, Mr Irani replied dolefully: “I agree, that’s exactly what I have been telling her but she just does not listen.” Ms Irani, who contested against Congress president Rahul Gandhi from the Amethi constituency, has been the most bitter and vocal critic of the Nehru-Gandhi scion. She never loses an opportunity to lash out at Rahul Gandhi or poke fun at him.