After being virtually paralysed for over three months since the first lockdown in March, political activities have started again. Life has been breathed into competitive political action within Parliament (through its mechanism of parliamentary panels) and in the states – Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Kerala among others – in the last few days. However, these activities are yet to reach anywhere near the levels of pre-Covid times.
At the national level, politics stepped out of the social media/virtual medium in meetings of two parliamentary panels – Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change – last week. Panels on Home Affairs and Labour are set to meet this week. Questions on the lockdown and the plight of migrant workers are likely to come up, and one can expect some political action there.
Also Read | What Pilot vs Gehlot means for both — and party
But the other political action that went under the radar last week was the attempt by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to allocate portfolios to his newly inducted 28 ministers. He had come to Delhi the previous week to seek guidance from the BJP leadership about allocating to the ministers loyal to Jyotiradtiya Scindia, the terms of whose induction into the party in March were decided by the nationl leadership. Even then, Chouhan has struggled for a full week to decide.
Balancing between the Scindia group’s demands and not upsetting the BJP’s interests appears to be an uphill task for Chouhan with his razor thin majority, and assembly byelections looming. Last heard, he had finalised the portfolios but was waiting for the signature of Governor Anandiben Patel, who is in Lucknow. The announcement of the portfolios is likely to be followed by several kinds of noises both within the party and outside this week.
But the big political action is unfolding in Jaipur, where the rift between Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot has spilled out in the open. The BJP, which used the previous such divide within the Congress in Bhopal to install its government, is keenly watching. Gehlot, a master of smoke and mirrors politics, has, for public consumption, accused the BJP of trying to destabilize his government, while cornering Pilot before the party leadership in Delhi.
The Congress’s numbers in the state Assembly are rather different from what they were in Madhya Pradesh when Scindia made his move. There, the BJP’s numbers were only marginally behind the Congress’s; here, the difference of 40-50 MLAs, depending on which calculation you believe. But still, daggers drawn in public is a spectacle — let’s see where this ends up.
In Kerala, the trail of the gold smuggling case appears to lead to the Chief Minister’s office, if not to Pinarayi Vijayan himself. The scandal has come as relief for the UDF, which, within a year of having comprehensively defeated the LDF in the Lok Sabha elections, had been overshadowed by the government’s efficient Covid-19 response. Kerala is slated for polls early next year, and expect the political jostling to gain momentum.
In Bihar — the first electoral political action ground since the outbreak of the pandemic – slow but steady political action has begun. Central leaders – Bhupender Yadav (BJP) and ShaktiSinh Gohil (Congress) – visited the state last week. The political murmuring within both the ruling NDA and anti-NDA camps has begun. Alliance making and seat-sharing related posturing is likely to dominate the political action as the parties struggle to reach out to the masses in these times of pandemic.
Meanwhile, the two big issues of the military stand-off with China along the LAC in Ladakh and the Covid situation continue to remain top-of-mind.
Later this week, it will be a month since the clashes in the Galwan Valley resulted in 20 casualties on the Indian side. The two sides have been talking, and the primary objective of disengagement of the forces at some points seems to have made some progress. The issue is likely to come up this week during another round of Corps Commander-level talks.
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The suspicion that has crept into the relationship is likely to make these discussions – military and diplomatic – very incremental. The progress and outcome of military talks this week can give some indication of how the issue of de-escalation of military build-up and establishing the status quo ante of April will be negotiated between New Delhi and Beijing in the coming days.
But, it is Covid-19 situation that has seen a significant shift since I wrote to you last. While the pandemic has continued to add more cases (about 1.8 lakh last week) than the week before, there has been a marked shift in the geography of new cases.
Unlike in previous weeks, when the top four hotspot states (Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Gujarat) contributed more than 60 per cent of cases, the centre of gravity of new cases shifted massively towards the rest of India last week. In fact, last week, both category of states appeared to be contributing equally to the new Covid cases across the country.
Karnataka, UP, Telangana, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Haryana are other states which have so far had more than 20,000 cases since the outbreak, and remain among the next set of states with large active caseloads after the four hotspot states. This shifting balance means new states need to start pulling up their socks. No wonder states are resorting to state-specific restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.
So, if you are not from those original four hotspot states, but are from these states – you need to be careful to not get casual during this phase. Take care and stay safe.
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