Smriti Irani may not have been too visible in the media in recent times, but with the UP elections looming, it’s unlikely she can be kept out for too long. She is, unsurprisingly, in high demand from the local BJP unit, which wants her to begin her campaign from Amethi and Raebareli. She is expected to take on not just Rahul Gandhi but also nullify the Priyanka Gandhi factor. BJP workers have also been noticed distributing and selling a 2020 book titled Amethi Sangram by the journalist Anant Vijay, which looks at how Smriti Irani defeated Rahul Gandhi during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Amethi.
CPM’s Mea Culpa?
For the first time in CPM’s history, the party will raise the national flag on Independence Day at its headquarters in Kolkata’s Alimuddin Street and party offices elsewhere. This is not how the party historically marks the day. In the past, it would get human chains formed—to send a message on unity and secularism—but always refraining from hoisting the national flag. The undivided Communist Party of India once even raised the slogan, “Yeh Azadi Jhootha Hain”. And Jyoti Basu famously did not raise the flag at Writers’ Building during the first leg of his tenure as West Bengal’s chief minister, only giving in from 1989 onwards once criticism became intense. This current change of heart has been brought about by pressures from the party’s newer generation. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have always targeted the party on this issue, and younger Communists believe it is time now to put an end to this practice.
Priyanka as CM Candidate
Congress leaders from Uttar Pradesh (UP) are believed to have asked the party high command to announce the name of Priyanka Gandhi as the party’s chief ministerial (CM) candidate for the coming UP elections. The Congress national secretary and state in-charge Rajesh Tiwari has publicly made this suggestion too. The party is, of course, in a bit of soup. Akhilesh Yadav is not ready to get into an alliance with Congress, Mayawati has already rejected such a possibility with her party, and Gandhi herself hasn’t been frequently turning up at Lucknow. The state’s party unit believes announcing Gandhi’s candidature from one of the constituencies and projecting her as a CM candidate would reinvigorate the party and help it improve its fortunes. But alas! The high command seems unenthused.
Nearly 12 years since BJP leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi’s house in Lucknow was attacked and set on fire allegedly by the then Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) MLA Jitendra Kumar Singh and his followers for comments she had made against BSP supremo Mayawati, the two briefly found themselves in the same party. Singh, who also goes by the nickname Bablu, was formally inducted along with other former Congress and BSP members into BJP. Joshi, an MP and a senior BJP leader from the state, was understandably upset and has been trying to get the party’s central leadership to have him expelled. They finally relented a few days ago.
Yediyurappa as Super Chief Minister?
Although Karnataka’s new CM Basavaraj Bommai issued an order giving former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa cabinet rank status, the buzz was that Yediyurappa didn’t just want the status; he wanted all the perks that came with it, including retaining the bungalow at Cauvery, the designated residence of the chief minister. Many BJP leaders were left aghast. Their fear that Yediyurappa was working towards becoming something of a super chief minister appeared to be coming true. Yediyurappa has, however, written a letter to the new chief minister—simultaneously releasing it to the media—asking that the order giving him cabinet rank status be withdrawn.
The Caste Census Flip-Flops
The story of the proposed caste Census in India has been one of shifting positions. While BJP in the past has backed it, with the Modi Government in 2018 announcing that the 2021 Census will also gather and analyse caste data, those currently in favour of such a caste census opposed it. They did not want BJP to reap any political benefit from such a move and opposed it on the grounds that caste-based surveys conducted earlier under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government should be published first. Under UPA, a National Sample Survey had found that OBCs accounted for 41 per cent of India’s population, and the 2011 Census had begun collecting caste data (a Pranab-Mukherjee led Group of Ministers had even given its approval), but not much has been heard since, with these reports either being unpublished or caste data being kept out of it. BJP now does not want to include caste data in the new Census, while parties like Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (United) are pushing for it.
Ropeway to Varanasi
A metro rail system might have been announced for Varanasi some years ago, but it looks unlikely to come to fruition. The city, it is being found, is far too congested to develop such a service. The Prime Minister’s Office is believed to be exploring the possibility of a ropeway service instead, where a ropeway can connect various important points in the city, from the Dashashwamedh Ghat and the Banaras railway station, to the Kashi railway station and the Cantonment area.
TMC Stealing Congress’ Thunder
Numerically, Congress may still have the claim to being the main opposition party, but in this parliamentary session, especially in Rajya Sabha, it was undeniably Trinamool Congress (TMC) that really took up the mantle of the opposition. TMC’s parliamentary party leader Derek O’Brien devised a brilliant strategy around a gang of four women well-trained in the politics of agitation. These four—Dola Sen, a former Naxalite and trade union leader; Arpita Ghosh, a dramatist-turned-politician; Shanta Chhetri, who cut her teeth in the Gorkhaland movement; Mausam Noor, a member of the political ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury family—would go down to the well of the House and shout “Lajja Lajja Lajja” (shame, shame, shame), rallying the entire opposition camp, while leaving a flustered Venkaiah Naidu with little recourse but to suspend them, along with a few others.
In Modi’s Footsteps
When Abdul Qayyum Niazi was picked as the new prime minister of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), the gossip in South Block was that Imran Khan was using a trick from Narendra Modi’s playbook. During the election campaign, Niazi was far from being seen as a favourite. The industrialist Sardar Tanveer Ilyas and Sultan Mahmood, a former prime minister of PoK, were seen as the two leading candidates. Yet, Khan sprung a surprise, just like Modi’s chief minister picks for Haryana, UP and Maharashtra in the past.
The best birthday parties are surprises. And few birthday bashes in Delhi’s political circles would have a guest list as surprising as this one. From political heavyweights like Lalu Prasad, Sharad Pawar, Akhilesh Yadav, Omar Abdullah, P Chidambaram, and many more from Shiv Sena, TMC, CPM, BJD, DMK, RLD, TRS, TDS, to members of the so-called G-23 leaders, Sonia Gandhi’s former speechwriter Janardan Dwivedi, and even Kamal Nath, who with the Madhya Pradesh Assembly in session, joined in online. Neither the Gandhis nor BJP members were, of course, invited. And over a lavish spread of chaats and kulchas, and bhuna gosht and galouti kebab, could one fault conversations from veering towards the political? The Shiromani Akali Dal’s Naresh Gujral is believed to have even told fellow guests that Congress needs to look beyond the Gandhis.