When election strategist Prashant Kishor sat in on a meeting of UP Congress members in Lucknow recently, he probably did not know what he had bargained for when he accepted Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s offer to help craft a poll strategy for the grand old party in UP and Punjab. The meeting was called to seek the views of Congress members on the party’s revival in the crucial Hindi heartland state. Those who participated in the half-day session had their grievances. While many complained about how loyal workers were being neglected, others forgot that the Congress has not been in power in the state for over three decades. They went on to present a long wishlist to the leadership till they were reminded that there was no point in making these demands as the Congress is not in power either in the state or at the Centre.
A delegate from Meerut walked away with the best prize when he made a passionate plea that the Congress should ensure the availability of “pure, shudh maas (meat)” to win the support of the Muslim community. Yet another local leader made a few points but refused to proceed further, stating that he would place all his proposals only before Mr Gandhi. There were many who just slept through the proceedings.
Congress cadres are not known to be hard workers. They either depend on the party leadership — Sonia and Rahul Gandhi — to work the magic for them or they wait for their opponents to falter. But Arun Yadav, president of the MP Congress unit, has his own ideas on how the party should take on the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government. When senior state leaders met recently to brainstorm about how the Congress can stage a comeback in MP, Mr Yadav said they should do nothing till the Ujjain kumbh mela concludes by May-end. According to Mr Yadav, it has been divined that the Chouhan government is in for a rough time after the kumbh mela. Either the government will self-destruct or Mr Chouhan could be replaced, Mr Yadav explained.
While his colleagues were suitably silenced with this explanation, BJP circles admit there may be some merit in Mr Yadav’s argument. Party insiders say that Mr Chouhan finds himself in a spot after BJP organising secretary Arvind Menon, who plays a role in coordinating between the organisation and the RSS, was replaced by Suhas Bhagat Mr Chouhan is not happy with this new arrangement as Mr Menon was his personal choice and his supporters believe this change is a warning signal to the CM. Now it is to be seen if Mr Yadav’s prediction comes true.
It is an accepted fact that most ministers in the Modi government do not take kindly to criticism. But HRD minister Smriti Irani easily tops this list along with minister of state for power Piyush Goyal. The two ministers are quick to respond to every adverse media report about their ministries and are known to have the phone numbers of leading media owners and editors on speed-dial. A TV repor-ter, who covers the HRD ministry, found himself at the receiving end recently when he had the temerity to challenge Ms Irani’s contention on the unfolding drama at the NIT in Srinagar. After their verbal spat, the minister went up to the reporter to ask the name of the organisation he represented. As soon as she was informed about the TV channel, Ms Irani lost no time in calling up the owner-editors to complain. Fortunately for the journalist, his bosses were not too harsh on him but it was not for want of trying by the tough-talking Ms Irani.
Ever since Keshav Prasad Maurya was named the new president of the BJP’s unit in UP, there has been endless speculation as to how and why he was picked for this all-important job in the poll-bound state. The dark horse who beat several other senior leaders to emerge the winner, Mr Maurya has the dubious distinction of having a number of criminal cases against him. On the other hand, he has been a loyal RSS worker and was actively involved in the Ram temple movement and the campaign against cow slaughter. If BJP grapevine is to believed, Mr Maurya was favoured over the others as he was the protege of the late Ashok Singhal, who headed the VHP for decades and was the face of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign. It is being said that Singhal had anointed Mr Maurya as his heir-apparent.