NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule’s spirited interventions during the discussion on the Bill on the powers of the Delhi government and the no-confidence motion left little doubt that she has been a strong voice within the party against any power sharing or alliance with BJP. Her attack on BJP for striking a deal with a faction of NCP despite having labelled the outfit as daubed in corruption made her sense of hurt evident. Her unease with BJP is also reflected in her apparently cordial relations with DMK’s Kanimozhi and SP’s Dimple Yadav—parties strongly aligned against the Centre—with whom she shares bench space in Lok Sabha. Sule’s opposition, however, may not be the only reason Pawar has not acquiesced in nephew Ajit Pawar’s alliance with BJP. Pawar has said that it does not suit NCP to be with BJP. One good reason is NCP’s reliance on Muslim votes which it will lose. Also, being part of the BJP-led NDA means playing second fiddle to the saffron party for the foreseeable future. Yet, meetings between Pawar Sr and Ajit continue to stir the cauldron with the senior leader admitting that he is being persuaded to back the deal with BJP in the “national interest”. It is possible that the breakaway faction is arguing that the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi of Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, Congress and now the rump NCP does not offer great prospects going ahead. The problem for all the smaller parties in Maharashtra is precisely the same: remaining intact when out of office is a challenge. Despite all talk of stepping into the opposition space, Congress remains a weak and fractious force without much popular support. The splits in the Sena and NCP have weakened both and though NDA seems a chaotic assembly of Eknath Shinde’s Sena, BJP and Ajit Pawar, the momentum has swung its way. All of this puts Sharad Pawar in a difficult spot. On the one hand, he is seen as a prime mover of the opposition alliance at the national level but at the grassroots where it matters in Maharashtra, the rebellion in the ranks has left him with increasingly difficult choices.
Congress’ Dwindling Returns
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech in Lok Sabha in reply to the no-confidence motion saw him once again point out that defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has prospered with fresh orders, Congress handles, including its spokesperson Jairam Ramesh’s, repeated allegations about how the public sector firm was denied orders to make 108 Rafale fighters. However, the claims do not seem to be washing well on social media going by responses, many of which point out the obvious flaw in the argument—the Manmohan Singh government never concluded the deal despite seven years of discussions. The responses seem spontaneous and not from party-related handles although they are clearly not Congress supporters. The fact remains that one of the reasons UPA failed to close the Rafale deal was because manufacturer Dassault Aviation and HAL could not agree on how many man hours would be needed for maintaining the fleet. The purchase was renegotiated when the Modi government resumed office as an inter-government agreement resulting in timely acquisition of the sophisticated fighters at a time when border tensions with China have spiked. The Rafale purchase was unsuccessfully attacked by Congress and a section of commentators whose actions appeared calculated to help China’s cause rather than India’s defence preparedness.
LG in Command
The presidential assent to the Delhi Services Act has put an end, at least for now, to the bickering between the AAP government and the Centre. The political battle of course continues with the Delhi government claiming that it no longer has a hold on officials. BJP leaders counter by claiming that no legitimate order of the Delhi government will be denied by any official. If the idea is to move files relating to vigilance inquiries relating to the AAP government, then that would not be possible any more with the lieutenant governor firmly in the saddle. In retrospect, it does seem the Delhi government overplayed its hand. No government at the Centre would put up with non-stop grandstanding, least of all one with a majority of its own in Lok Sabha. As Union Home Minister Amit Shah reminded AAP, it has to reconcile itself with Delhi’s special status as the national capital, which means it can never be granted full statehood. The final act in this drama will now be decided by the Supreme Court which is hearing several appeals against the law.
A Lesson for DMK
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman took the DMK benches by surprise during the debate on the no-trust motion in Lok Sabha when she said the well-regarded commentary on the Tamil classic Silappathikaram, contrary to the claims of DMK speakers, embraced the unity of India rather than a separatist philosophy. The minister quoted “Ma Po Si” (Mylai Ponnusamy Sivagnanam), a noted commentator on the epic who did not see the text to be contrary to notions of commonality between north and south India. The traits of separatism influence the submissions of DMK leaders, she said, and added that the Centre’s Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat (One India, Better India) drew on the lessons offered by the Tamil epic. DMK seemed to have made a mistake in walking out when Sitharaman began speaking as she had the floor to herself and was allowed by the speaker to speak in Tamil. The exchange is interesting as it provides an insight into a political tussle in Tamil Nadu where BJP has taken on the ‘Dravidian’ politics of DMK which has held sway for decades. Whether BJP will make headway is an untested proposition, but the party has managed to rile DMK with Chief Minister MK Stalin giving a rare media interview criticising BJP soon after the no-trust vote.
Catching the Cattle Mafia
Despite the heavy presence of paramilitary and police forces, the Nuh-Mewat region remains tense. Activities of the dangerous cattle mafia that operate in the area and in neighbouring Alwar in Rajasthan are down but not out. The mafia is now trying to use parts of the newly constructed Mumbai highway for fast passage and a recent encounter resulted in the police party being fired on. The cattle smugglers were finally apprehended with one receiving bullet injuries. The illegal trade is a major challenge to law and order and is suspected of having a hand in the attack on VHP’s Jalabhishek Yatra on July 31. The attack on the yatra that resulted in six deaths and injuries to dozens of people has led to a strong mobilisation of Hindu groups, including gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) with a ‘mahapanchayat’ in Palwal pledging to reorganise the abandoned yatra on August 28. With public sentiment running high, the police are under pressure to get the masterminds behind the July 31 violence. A concerted drive against criminal gangs operating in Mewat is in the offing and until the area is cleansed of its mafia, communal tensions and organised crime will go hand-in-hand.