Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and a host of former ministers and environmentalists lined up for the launch of Jairam Ramesh’s book, Indira Gandhi — A Life in Nature, at a small gathering last week. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was conspicuous by his absence at the programme which was held as part of Indira Gandhi’s birth centennial year. He was apparently scheduled to attend the book launch but failed to turn up. Those who attended said the programme was delayed and the guests were kept waiting for Mr Gandhi and even Mrs Gandhi appeared clueless about her son’s whereabouts. The proceedings got under way only after the Congress president got a message from Mr Gandhi that he would not be coming as he was in Amritsar that day. This minor incident reflects the communication gap between the party president and vice-president. It is not surprising that the Congress rank and file feels frustrated with Mr Gandhi’s inaccessibility to party workers.
Till three years ago, politicians across the spectrum made it a point to host an iftar party during Ramzan. But these iftar parties have stopped after the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014. While the BJP has never been comfortable on such occasions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi never hosts an iftar and makes it a point to skip the one hosted by the President. He had once famously declined to wear a skull cap offered to him when he was Gujarat CM. Given this backdrop, everyone was taken aback when Gujarat governor O.P. Kohli, who is holding additional charge of Madhya Pradesh, hosted an iftar in Bhopal last week. This move was particularly bewildering because Mr Kohli is a senior BJP leader. People believe that Mr Kohli had possibly deferred to Bhopal’s composite culture when he decided to host an iftar in the city. The big question now is: Will Mr Kohli host a similar gathering in Gujarat, a state whose people are attuned to Mr Modi’s brand of politics?
As speculation about changes in the Congress state units gathers momentum, the rivalry between Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia is intensifying. Both leaders are keen to head the Madhya Pradesh Congress and have made strenuous efforts to establish their credentials for this post. Recently, when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi came to Mandsaur to visit the families of farmers killed in the protests, he was accompanied by Kamal Nath and former Madhya Pradesh CM Digvijaya Singh. Mr Nath had been prompt in issuing a press statement a day before, condemning the police firing.
Mr Scindia, who was abroad at that time, cut short his stay when he heard about the violence in his home state. He also attempted to visit Mandsaur, but was stopped by the police. Mr Scindia then followed it up with a satyagraha while Bhopal was plastered with posters proclaiming, “Kisan ke samman mein, Scindia maidan mein”. Clearly, the battle for MP is heating up in the Congress. There was a time when minister of state for commerce Nirmala Sitharaman was among the most recognised faces of the BJP. Before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, she was fielded regularly by the party to hit out at the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. Ms Sitharaman was therefore a natural choice for a ministerial berth in the Narendra Modi government.
Unlike her Cabinet colleague Smriti Irani, who has a knack for hitting the headlines often for the wrong reasons, Ms Sitharaman has virtually disappeared from the scene. She is barely seen or heard these days. It was also surprising that Ms Sitharaman was not among the frontline ministers who were called upon to present the government’s achievements during its third anniversary celebrations. This has resulted in several conspiracy theories. Her detractors maintain this may be because the bosses are not happy with her handling of the commerce ministry. However, Ms Sitharaman was called in last week to attack former Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit for his remarks about the Army Chief. But this failed to convince the BJP sceptics.