In an interesting aside, during the much-watched Supreme Court hearing of the bail plea of Congress functionary Pawan Khera, his lawyer and Rajya Sabha MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi strongly distanced himself from Khera’s remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Singhvi noted that he has also been a Congress spokesperson for long but never stooped to the use of insulting language. The noted lawyer may well have been doing all he could to assure the bench—which also spoke of the need to maintain certain standards of decorum—that Khera would not repeat what seemed like a deliberate slip of tongue. But this is not the first time that Singhvi has pointedly distanced himself from some of the utterances of his party and its positions on various issues. He has chosen to see national security issues relating to Pakistan and China as matters of bipartisan consideration rather than the confrontationist positions adopted by various Congress leaders. He backed the deportation of controversial British MP Debbie Abrahams saying she was a known proxy of Pakistani agencies. He also warned the media and the public not to fall for gimmicks like videos that purportedly showed the Chinese flag at Galwan, saying that these were part of propaganda and misinformation. Singhvi has often been critical of the NDA government but seems to believe that reflexive opposition, particularly personal attacks on Modi, are not useful and that “one-way opposition” helps the prime minister to consolidate support. Given his crucial role as a lawyer representing key cases of interest to Congress, he is unlikely to be asked to fall in line.
Politics in Maharashtra remains on the boil with senior leaders like Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis stating that NCP chief Sharad Pawar had initially backed a coalition with BJP and that Ajit Pawar’s supposed revolt was not an independent enterprise. Fadnavis then followed up by saying that former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had suggested that the BJP leader could be chief minister in the midst of the Shiv Sena crisis. The claim was not outright rejected by the Thackeray group with Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut saying that there was nothing unusual in leaders speaking to one another. If true, the incident marks a dramatic reversal of fortunes as there were strong indications—now confirmed by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde—that the previous MVA government was looking to arrest Fadnavis in a case of alleged telephone surveillance. In the midst of all these ‘revelations’, Pawar has largely kept silent even as it was claimed that he had made his ‘support’ to a coalition with BJP conditional on Fadnavis not being chief minister. Observers feel that Fadnavis had rubbed NCP the wrong way by taking the political battle to Pawar’s home turf in all earnestness. This was a break with the past when none of the major parties took on one another’s family boroughs. Pawar & Co have now boycotted a tea hosted by Shinde, claiming that the chief minister’s residence is running gargantuan food bills and that it was a big waste.
Visuals of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Karnataka on February 27 from the government pointedly draw attention to his walking hand-in-hand with BJP veteran BS Yediyurappa (BSY). BSY and Modi have been on good terms and his importance cannot be understated ahead of the Karnataka election with BJP having effected a change of guard by installing Basavaraj Bommai as chief minister. BSY has said he is committed to work for BJP in the election and Modi’s regard for him is quite evident. The two leaders were in touch even when BSY left BJP to float his own regional party in 2012. At the time, there was a view in BJP that BSY had been humiliated and forced to quit as chief minister in 2011 in a case wherein his involvement was not established. Party managers felt regional strongmen like BSY need more astute and subtle handling. Since his return to BJP in 2014, and even after he stepped down for Bommai, the leader’s relations with the party brass have not wavered. Commanding a following among the influential Lingayat community, BSY has acceptability across the state and is a savvy politician with an understanding of Karnataka’s complex regional and caste equations.
KCR In Local Trouble
The infighting among Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) councillors, many of whom are vying for the post of chairperson, has reached a tipping point. Weeks ago, Bhoga Sravani resigned as Jagtial municipal chairperson and blamed MLA M Sanjay Kumar for harassing her. Sravani has since quit the party. In Jangaon, 13 BRS councillors out of 16 got together at a hotel to move a no-trust motion against their party chairperson Pokala Jamuna, Vice Chairman Mekala Ram Prasad and floor leader Maraboina Pandu. The situation was diffused after KT Rama Rao, BRS working president, intervened but the party continues to battle local leadership issues. These seemingly very local issues are becoming a bother for party leader and Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) who is in search of a national profile. In damage-control mode, the Telangana government has alleged interference and forgery by opposition members and asked municipal commissioners to verify the signatures of councillors who moved no-confidence motions against their own party mayors and municipal chairpersons in 13 corporations and municipalities. Meanwhile, an amendment bill to the Telangana Municipalities Act to stop moving a no-confidence motion against civic body chiefs before four years instead of three is pending with the governor. With state polls slated to be held late this year, many expect KCR to dissolve the Assembly and call for an early election. But first, he has to set his house in order.
The Badlands of Nuh
A gruesome case of murder that came to light with the discovery of two burnt skeletal remains in Bhiwani in Haryana has again cast the spotlight on the illegal cattle trade and the vigilantism of gau rakshaks in the Nuh-Mewat region. A region that abuts Gurugram, Nuh stands out for its startling contrast with the glitz and modernity of the newer parts of the millennium city. A persistently backward patch, it has defied the efforts of successive governments to improve administration and enforce law and order. Efforts to reach electricity to its remoter parts have suffered with residents uprooting poles and wires and assaulting workmen, ostensibly because of concerns that they may have to pay regular bills. Last year, Nuh was in the news for illegal miners running down and killing a police officer who tried to intercept a truck. Considerable outrage led to fresh pledges to police the area and stop illegal activities. But efforts in this direction are challenged by the mafia running illegal cattle trade and slaughter, leading to bloody clashes with cow vigilantes. In the Bhiwani case too, gau rakshaks have been named in the murders of the two youth from Rajasthan whose bodies were found. The cattle smuggling business runs astride Nuh and neighbouring Alwar in Rajasthan. While investigation in the current case is on, it has taken a communal turn with demonstrations in support of the accused leading to internet curbs. A concerted military-style operation with the use of drones and even satellites may be needed to take on the mining and cattle mafia.