The Congress is excited over the positive response in Gujarat to Rahul Gandhi. Youth are at the forefront of the anti-BJP campaign. But party veterans fear that the Congress could lose the initiative because of divisions between the old guard and Rahul’s people. For instance, veteran Ashok Gehlot is the general secretary in-charge, but Rahul Gandhi appointed four deputies under him. One of them, Balasaheb Thorat, also heads the screening committee for candidate selection and reports directly to Rahul. A recent blunder was to allow Reshma Patel, the fiery orator who was once a close aide of Hardik Patel, to slip out of the Congress camp. Reshma, who has fallen out with Hardik, was willing to join the Congress if nominated for Keshad seat in Saurashtra. She flew to Delhi to finalise her entry. However, the Congress backed down because Hardik objected. As a result, Reshma, as well as Hardik’s spokesperson Varun Patel, joined the BJP. Hardik, who wants to have sole control over the Patel reservation campaign, is so self-important that he is unwilling to talk to anyone in the Congress other than Rahul. Even Kapil Sibal, who recently flew to Ahmedabad, could only meet one of Hardik’s deputies.
Amit Shah’s decision to induct Narayan Rane into the BJP is turning out to be a major headache for Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and the party state unit. If Rane, an MLC, joins the BJP, his son Nitesh and another MLA, who is his supporter, are expected to formally quit the Congress. This would reduce the strength of the Congress in the Maharashtra Assembly to 40 MLAs, and the NCP with 41 MLAs would become the chief opposition party. Fadnavis has a comfortable working relationship with the present leader of the Opposition, the Congress’s Vikhe Patil. But if the NCP becomes the largest party, he would have a tough time dealing with the combative Ajit Pawar. Also, Rane’s defection, along with his two followers, would automatically mean a re-election for his MLC seat and the two MLA seats. The BJP would be hardpressed to win any of the three seats, since all the main parties, the NCP, Congress and its hostile partner Shiv Sena, are expected to join hands to defeat the party.
Cat among pigeons
Narendra Modi’s last-minute request to visit the ailing 93-year-old M Karunanidhi during his brief trip to Chennai for the 75th anniversary of Dina Thanthi newspaper has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. DMK leader M K Stalin was taken by surprise and had to rush home from Dubai. The DMK allies, the Congress and the Left, are furious at the apparent show of bonhomie. In Chennai, some point out cynically that Modi’s blessings on Sasikala did her little good; she ended up in jail shortly afterwards. Karunanidhi’s elder son M K Alagiri, who was ousted from the DMK is, however, ecstatic and wrote a gushing letter to the PM. He was “really overwhelmed by your greatest concern and care for my parents”, Alagiri wrote, adding that the PM’s invitation to his parents to visit Delhi would certainly rejuvenate them.
The high-powered guests at the wedding reception of the daughter of the President’s Joint Secretary, Bharat Lal, last week, were indicative of the clout of the low-key Indian Forest Service officer. Besides the President, Prime Minister Modi and the entire PMO, there were many diplomats, both Indian and foreign. Before he joined Rashtrapati Bhavan, Lal had been resident commissioner for the Gujarat government in Delhi since 2010. But his main duty was helping coordinate Modi’s trips abroad. When the BJP leader was chief minister, Lal did not just organise trips, he also served as a one-man-window for Indian and foreign businessmen to get in touch with Modi.
The enmity between Gujarat leaders Ahmed Patel and Amit Shah was further exacerbated after Patel won his Rajya Sabha seat. Now the BJP’s attempt to target Patel by making a noise that a suspected Islamic State agent was working at the Sardar Patel Hospital and Heart Institute in Ankleshwar, of which Patel was a trustee, has fallen flat. The suspect, Kasim Stimberwala, had joined the hospital after Patel resigned as a trustee. In any case, Stimberwala was hired on the basis of a letter of recommendation from the CARE Hospital in Surat. The Surat branch of CARE was inaugurated by Narendra Modi. Other CARE hospitals have also been inaugurated by BJP leaders. Along with Patel, Morari Bapu was one of those who played a major role in raising money for the Sardar Patel Hospital. By the BJP’s logic, any of the above names mentioned could also be held guilty by association.