The gloves are off in the NCP vs NCP fight. The majority faction’s leader Ajit Pawar left no one in doubt that the political fight with his uncle Sharad Pawar was for real, irrespective of their “cordial” meetings. There is a difference between the personal and the political and while Ajit ‘Dada’ Pawar might be happy to accommodate any request—even as he urges both groups to support the NDA coalition in Maharashtra—the stakes are high. Having successfully retained his Assembly segment in Baramati over several elections, he has warned voters not to fall for emotional appeals about the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls being Pawar Sr’s “last” electoral battle. It has, of course, been some time since Sharad Pawar announced he would not contest the Lok Sabha polls (opting for Rajya Sabha instead), but the battle is one of influence on his home turf. Dada has decided to make a serious play for the Baramati Lok Sabha seat and his references to his proximity to the BJP brass indicates he will not only be part of NDA but feels this is where his political future lies. The deputy chief minister has never, unlike his uncle, fancied a national profile and his reputation of being a grassroots organiser will now be tested. He is determined his faction be endorsed as the ‘real’ NCP so that his clout and utility in the ruling coalition could be established. His quest has received a boost with the Election Commission granting the NCP clock symbol to his faction. The unrest over the issue of Maratha reservation does not seem to have made Dada too uneasy, another indicator that the patchwork peace arrived at with quota activists may hold. Dada’s objective is to dominate the western Maharashtra sugar-belt constituencies that will, in effect, result in whittling down his uncle’s legendary influence in the region. Working in his favour also is the opposition to Sharad Pawar within Congress. Though Congress is now in reduced circumstances, some of its leaders from western Maharashtra are firmly opposed to Pawar Sr, a factor the nephew will take into account while planning his moves.
The Lost Yatra
Congress spokespersons are finding the going difficult as the party struggles to contain the fallout of JD(U)’s exit from the I.N.D.I.A. bloc and the continued hostility of Trinamool Congress. Despite jibes that the party may find it hard to touch the 50-seat mark in the Lok Sabha polls, Congress spokespersons are showing exemplary restraint about Trinamool, averring that the party continues to be part of the opposition alliance and committed to opposing BJP. All this means Rahul Gandhi’s second Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra has fallen off the radar. It had a rough beginning when attempts to create controversies by provoking clashes with Assam Police not only failed but resulted in a counter-offensive with Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma directing law enforcement agencies to lodge complaints for the violation of administrative orders and breaches of law and order. The Yatra is currently in Jharkhand where, again, circumstances have conspired against Congress plans. JMM is concentrating on survival after the arrest of Chief Minister Hemant Soren and neither the government nor the media has much mind space for the Nyay Yatra.
An unusual aspect of the presentation of the interim Budget, which happened just ahead of the Lok Sabha election, was the lack of any heckling in the House. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman seemed to have braced for the expected jeers and hoots but there was none. A large section of the opposition sat in sullen silence as the minister went through her speech, with even assertions of vast improvements over the erstwhile UPA government failing to elicit protests. One reason could be the recent turmoil in the opposition I.N.D.I.A. bloc, with exits amid public bickering. Another could be the preoccupation of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra. Typically, Congress benches take a hint from party managers who convey messages on behalf of the leadership. A combination of events and circumstances meant the Budget speech sailed through smoothly and it was left to the treasury benches to thump desks in approval.
Drones Trump Pannun
Reports in a section of the media about US Congress members having “doubts” about the sale of Predator drones to India turned out to be overblown. Though Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin confirmed he had raised the issue of the alleged plot involving Indian nationals to assassinate Khalistani leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, reports missed out on the import of what the US government conveyed to the committee. The Biden administration’s view that India is committed to a thorough investigation makes it clear that New Delhi’s explanation has been accepted and the Pannun matter is not a hurdle in relations. While the matter required some attention, the overriding assessment that India is a key strategic and security partner has prevailed. After having made suitable noises on the Pannun affair, Cardin acknowledged the role of the partnership in stabilising the Indo-Pacific. The US administration has now notified Congress about the impending sale. The exaggerated reports of a US Congress “block” on the sale had a shelf life of just a day before the committee greenlighted the deal. The view in the Indian government is that the alleged plots will be investigated in the light of evidence provided. As another instance of shooting at the residence of an aide to slain Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar (shot in June last year) in Canada shows, murky criminal rivalries within extremist groups don’t require much external impetus. Canada continues to be a happy hunting ground for all manner of criminal gangs involved in arms and drugs who are busy settling scores in absolute disregard for their host nation.
OBC Seats In J&K
In keeping with the removal of Article 370’s provisions with regard to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the government brought to Parliament the Jammu and Kashmir Local Bodies Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2024 to ensure representation to OBCs for the first time since Independence. The Bill, according to its statement of objectives, seeks to amend certain provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, the Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Act, 2000 and the Jammu and Kashmir Municipal Corporation Act, 2000 (the Acts). This is to ensure consonance with the provisions of Part IX and Part IX(a) of the Constitution. These sections of the Constitution relate to “the Panchayats” and “the Municipalities” while certain other clauses empower state legislatures to make provisions for reservation of seats in any panchayat or municipality in favour of backward classes. The statutes governing the Union territory of J&K have no provision of reservation of seats for OBCs. In order to do so and bring about consistency in local body laws of the Union territory and provisions of the Constitution, it has become necessary to amend certain provisions of the Acts and to introduce a Bill in Parliament, the Bill states. The Jammu and Kashmir Local Bodies Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2024 will ensure justice to OBCs after 75 years of independence, the government has said.