West Bengal chief minister and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is on a poaching spree. In an earnest effort to expand her party’s footprint and emerge as the main face of a united Opposition, Ms Banerjee has been busy inducting leaders from other parties, especially the Congress. The Trinamul chief is particularly keen to enlist a maximum number of leaders over the next few months, before the results of the upcoming Assembly election results are declared. She fears that in case the Congress does reasonably well in these polls, it will become more assertive and will claim its position as the leader of the Opposition grouping on the ground that it is a national party while the others have a limited presence. Consequently, Mamata Banerjee is going all out to swell the ranks of her party in this timeframe.
Besides those who have already joined the Trinamul Congress, she is also in touch with G-23 members, the group of Congress leaders who are known to be unhappy with the way Congress is functioning. There is some talk that Ms Banerjee has also reached out to BJP’s disgruntled leader Varun Gandhi.
Whether it is the enactment of far-reaching farm laws or a relatively minor matter like the renaming of a railway station, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders are acquiring the reputation of taking hurried decisions which often backfire.
This is what happened in Madhya Pradesh. In a bid to woo the sizable tribal population, the state government recently decided to rename the Habibganj railway station in Bhopal after Rani Kamlapati, the 18th-century Gond queen of the region. However, this move soon became a source of embarrassment for chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as it was subsequently pointed out that Rani Kamlapati was married to a Muslim. Many state BJP leaders are upset over this revelation and want the station to be renamed after Atal Behari Vajpayee as originally planned. This is not all. Mr Chouhan stoked a fresh controversy when he described Rani Kamlapati as a Hindu queen. The Gond community has not taken kindly to this description as its members believe they have a distinct cultural and social identity and cannot be classified as Hindu. The chief minister is now busy making amends as his original plan to woo the Gonds has clearly gone awry.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her estranged cousin, BJP Lok Sabha MP Varun Gandhi appear to be competing with each other. A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the scrapping of the three contentious farm laws, Priyanka shot off a letter to him demanding the dismissal of Ajay Mishra, minister of state for home, whose son has been arrested in connection with the Lakhimpur Kheri violence and pressed the Prime Minister not to share a dais with the minister. Coincidentally, Varun Gandhi also wrote to the Prime Minister the same day demanding Rs. 1 crore compensation for the families of those killed in the violence, legal guarantee on MSP to farmers and action against Union minister Mishra. It is learned that Varun Gandhi was not happy that he had been upstaged by his cousin and privately even dismissed her letter as insubstantial. As an MP from Pilibhit, Varun Gandhi considers Uttar Pradesh as his turf while Priyanka is making a valiant attempt to resurrect the Congress in this politically important state.
If the BJP is facing an uphill task in Uttarakhand, the state unit of the Congress is also struggling to put its house in order. Former chief minister Harish Rawat, who is desperate to get his old job back, is unhappy that even though it is widely believed that he is the chief ministerial face of the Congress, this message is not being relayed to the electorate. Mr Rawat is convinced he is being deliberately ignored. At a recent meeting with the party’s social media team, which comprises mostly young persons, a visibly upset Mr Rawat bemoaned that despite his stature in the state, the team is ignoring him in its campaigns. The youngsters were apparently taken aback at this emotional outpouring by a senior politician. As for Mr Rawat, he was later counselled by his colleagues that he should not be too concerned with the social media campaign and should instead focus on a personalised public outreach.
Two months ago, Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel came close to losing his job as the Congress leadership was giving serious thought to a change of leadership in the state. Though Mr Baghel survived the threat, he is not taking any chances and has since been working overtime on consolidating his position. His supporters have fanned out across the state and set up virtual fan clubs with the express purpose of projecting Mr Baghel as a powerful and popular leader of backward classes. As this movement gathers momentum, the Congress will be hard put to replace Mr Baghel for fear of alienating the politically important backward classes.