Whenever an election is around the corner, political parties witness a rush of new entrants as well as defections. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has attracted a fair number of turncoats from other parties in this election, has a special script for those who are crossing over from the Congress. In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, disgruntled Congress members who joined the BJP would invariably blame their departure on party president Rahul Gandhi's poor leadership; that he was immature and non-serious and was inaccessible to workers. From Jayanti Natarajan to Hemanta Biswa Sarma all read from the same script. This time, however, the BJP has a new formulation for the Congress entrants. Since the saffron party is currently riding high on a nationalist agenda post-Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot airstrike, those coming from the Congress have to necessarily declare that they were leaving because they did not agree with the Congress response to India's retaliatory strike against Pakistan and that the Opposition party was undermining the armed forces by raising doubts about its operation. The BJP strategy in the last election was to demolish Rahul Gandhi and project him as a "Pappu". In the coming electoral contest, the saffron party's effort is to dub the Congress as being "anti-national". This explains the BJP's changed script.
When finance minister Arun Jaitley was forced to take time off from work for medical reasons, there was constant talk in the capital's political circles that he had lost his clout in the Modi government and was being kept at arm's length by both the Prime Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah. But, as it turned out, this was nothing but idle chatter. Mr Jaitley was given back the finance ministry as soon as his doctors allowed him to resume work has also managed to get plum postings for bureaucrats who worked with him. For instance, the newly-appointed Election Commission member, Sushil Chandra, recently retired as the chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes, which is under Mr Jaitley. Similarly, Vanaja Sarna and Mahender Singh, who retired as chairman and member of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, respectively, were appointed information commissioner and non-judicial member of the newly set-up Lokpal authority. Both officers worked closely with Mr Jaitley for the past 18 months in the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax. Former law secretary Suresh Chandra, who had an old association with Mr Jaitley when he was a minister in the Vajpayee government, was appointed Central Information Commissioner. Meanwhile, Mr Jaitley is playing a key role in the preparations for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls and is also busy unsettling the Opposition through his regular blogs.
While the Congress is having a tough time in its seat-sharing negotiations with its allies, the Bharatiya Janata Party has managed to pacify its sulking partners, including the Asom Gana Parishad and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The GJM was upset with the Modi government for not acting on its demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland and, at one stage its protesting supporters had even clashed with BJP workers during the 2017 shutdown in the Valley. Angry with Darjeeling MP BJP’s S.S. Ahluwalia for not being in regular touch with his constituency over his five-year term, the GJM was keen that its chief, Bimal Gurung, should contest this time. But not only has the GJM been persuaded to continue its partnership with the saffron party, but it has also agreed to back a BJP candidate in Darjeeling once again. Among the various names being mentioned is Uttarakhand tourism minister Satpal Maharaj who is not known to be on the best of terms with his chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. It would suit Mr Rawat if Maharaj is moved out of the state.
Having suffered a back injury, Chief Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala is moving around with great difficulty these days and was assisted by two helpers when he attended the meeting of the Haryana coordination committee last week. But, according to the buzz in Congress circles, Mr Surjewala is essentially making grounds for not contesting the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls in case he is asked by the leadership to take the electoral plunge. A sitting MLA from Haryana's Kaithal assembly constituency, Mr Surjewala would prefer to focus on the state elections as that puts him in the reckoning for the chief minister's post in the future.
But Congress insiders said Mr Surjewala should remember that Rohtak MP Deepender Hooda, was also rendered immobile with a back injury during the 2014 general election. His campaign was run by his father, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, while Hooda junior reached out to the electorate from his sickbed through video and audio messages. It's a different matter that Deepender Hooda was back on his feet as soon as he won his seat....