ASHOK TANDON, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s media handler, writes in his book, The Reverse Swing: Colonialism to Cooperation, about a move to make his boss president in 2002 and hand over the prime ministership to his deputy and then-Home Minister LK Advani. Anyone familiar with the durbar politics of those days would vouch that the ruling party was informally divided into rival Vajpayee and Advani camps. Indeed, even sections of the media were identified with one camp or the other. That there indeed was a strong bid to virtually de-mobilise Vajpayee, as it were, and hand over the reins of government to Advani whose ambition for the top job was not among the best-kept secrets in New Delhi, can be confirmed by yours truly. Having learnt about the move from a close confidant of one of the main characters, I wrote about it in my weekly syndicated column. It seems two well-known journalists claiming proximity to a top industrialist flew to Mumbai only to whisper in his ears what was then supposed to be top secret. The two journalists were known Advani partisans. The street-smart industrialist, in turn, immediately flew to Delhi, met Vajpayee, and conveyed in person what he had been told in utmost secrecy. Of course, Vajpayee had no intention to be ‘retired’ from active political life, though how political morality came in the way of his becoming president was not clear. The simple truth is that Vajpayee and his close coterie were unwilling to shed power and all that came with it, and indeed a lot comes when you hold the most powerful job in the country. A few days after I wrote about it, Advani accosted me in Parliament House, protesting mildly that I had got the story wrong. Mercifully, on my countering that I had learnt it from the horse’s mouth, he did not ask me to name the horse, though I am sure he understood whom I meant.
IT IS RATHER surprising that someone as tech-savvy as Jairam Ramesh should protest against the digitalisation of the muster rolls of MGNREGA. Given the largescale theft of MGNREGA funds through bogus attendance rolls, digitalisation alone would prevent such pilferage. How digitalisation works as a disincentive to the demand for the scheme, as Ramesh has alleged, is not clear. At a time when everybody and his uncle has an Aadhaar card, listing it for payment under the MGNREGA scheme should be the easiest of tasks, especially when the poor can earn money after doing a day’s honest work.
Why encourage rigging up of rolls and falsification of works done by encouraging people not to register with the Aadhaar card? The problem with Congress leaders is that, having been the patron saints of the politics of patronage all along, they abhor the idea of digitalisation, which makes phantom rolls well-nigh impossible. Does Ramesh want a situation where, as Rajiv Gandhi said, only 15 paise of a development rupee reached its target, while 85 paise went into the pockets of Congressmen and other middlemen?
AFTER THREE WELL-publicised meetings in Patna, Bengaluru, and Mumbai, the leaders of the dotted I.N.D.I.A. grouping has gone back to playing their own little partisan games, unmindful of the protestations of unity and harmony heard at those jamborees. Every other day comes a plethora of evidence about the dotted alliance being dotted with mutual recriminations. That the façade of cooperation would be torn asunder so soon still came as a surprise. After the Madhya Pradesh Congress humiliated Akhilesh Yadav, rudely rejecting the Samajwadi Party chief’s bid for a couple of seats in the forthcoming Assembly polls, even the convenient ploy of the alliance subsisting only for the parliamentary polls seemed hollow. Especially when the newly anointed UP Congress Chief Ajay Rai threatens to contest all 80 Lok Sabha seats. That his party leader, Rahul Gandhi, had to seek the protection of the Muslim-majority Wayanad in Kerala to get into Parliament, Rai’s talk of contesting all 80 seats can only be an empty boast. Maybe in 2024, Akhilesh will get his chance to show Congress its place.
LITTLE ATTENTION WAS paid to an extraordinary poll promise by the Madhya Pradesh Congress. In its sop-heavy manifesto, the party has promised an “IPL team for MP”. Why? “Because IPL is popular among young people…” No pretence to be subtle here. Promise the voter what he wants. At least some of them will be hoodwinked into voting for the party.