The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was absent in both Houses of Parliament during the debate on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill did not go unnoticed and was the subject of much speculation last week. One view was that the Prime Minister wanted home minister Amit Shah to be centrestage during the debate and did not wish to steal his thunder. At the same time, it was a reiteration of Mr Shah’s pre-eminent position in the government and a clear-cut message that the home minister is Mr Modi’s successor. The other view is that while the home minister was left to do the heavy lifting on contentious matters like the abrogation of Article 370 and now the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, Mr Modi stayed away from the debate as he is positioning himself as a statesman and as a leader far removed from issues which have been criticised abroad. He basically wants to insulate himself from any adverse fallout of the passage of the citizenship bill. This important for Mr Modi as he is constantly seeking global acclaim.
Though the BJP has named Narayan Lal Panchariya as its chief whip in the Rajya Sabha, he has virtually no role during the session. Home minister Amit Shah has instead enlisted the help of C.M. Ramesh, former Telugu Desam member, who joined the BJP a few months ago, in floor management. Mr Shah apparently is in constant touch with Mr Ramesh and often calls him up at the crack of dawn, especially when the Parliament session is on. Mr Ramesh has apparently endeared himself to Mr Shah after he proved to be an invaluable asset, having played a critical role in breaching the Opposition ranks during the debate on the abrogation of Article 370 in the last session. Similarly, Mr Ramesh was seen busy working the phones before the vote on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Rajya Sabha. His task was to ensure that a number of Opposition members either supported the bill or absented themselves during the vote. He succeeded, as there were several abstentions from the Samajwadi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Congress, and the Trinamul Congress.
Worried about the BJP’s defeat in the recent West Bengal bypolls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a group of MPs from the state to understand why the party’s graph has dipped, considering it won a record 18 seats in the May Lok Sabha election. The MPs told Mr Modi that the BJP was lagging behind while the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul Congress has taken the lead in activating its party cadres and the government machinery in preparation for next year’s Assembly election. They explained that not only does the BJP have a serious leadership problem in West Bengal, it also has no coherent strategy to communicate its position on the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee, ably guided by poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s team, has reached down to the village level to explain how these two moves by the Narendra Modi government will hurt the people of West Bengal, thus winning the perception war. However, what they did not tell the Prime Minister is that a large number of BJP workers are now heading to the Trinamool Congress. An MP who attended this meeting remarked they did not convey this to Mr Modi simply because he did not ask them.
Senior Congress leader Motilal Vora, general secretary in charge of administration, keeps a close tab on the number of party office bearers who use the office space allotted to them at the AICC headquarters on Akbar Road. Mr Vora sends his staff around the premises at least thrice a day to check on the occupancy of the offices. A report is prepared and promptly dispatched to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former party chief Rahul Gandhi. But to little avail, as absenteeism in the party office remains at an all-time high.
Knives are out against K.C. Venugopal, Congress general secretary in-charge of Karnataka and a Rahul Gandhi favourite, ever since the party got a drubbing in the recent bypolls in the state. Though it is a fact that the Congress did not put up much of a fight in these elections, state leaders have been blaming Mr Venugopal for bypassing them in the selection of candidates, which, they said, was highly arbitrary. In fact, one of the meetings before the election even witnessed fireworks as B.K. Hari Prasad and K.H. Muniyappa got into a slanging match with Mr Venugopal over the choice of candidates and the fact that state leaders were not consulted. Consequently, many miffed Congress leaders decided to stay away from the campaign....