The Gandhi family wants Narendra Modi to be defeated in 2019 at all costs, no matter the personal sacrifice. The Congress war room is working on a strategy that an anti-BJP alliance should field joint candidates for 403 seats in 15 states in the next parliamentary elections. The party already has partners in Bihar, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand. Rahul Gandhi is now reaching out to new allies. He personally telephoned ailing Ajit Jogi’s wife to enquire about her husband’s health. (Jogi had left the Congress and floated a regional party.) In Assam, the Congress wants to join forces with the AIUDF and is keen on aligning with Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference in J&K. The Congress is even contemplating sharing a few seats with the NCP in Gujarat.
The states where an alliance is likely to elude the Congress are Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, Odisha and Delhi. Also, Uttar Pradesh continues to be tricky. According to reports, Mayawati has already tied up with Akhilesh Yadav. According to the agreement she gets to contest 45 seats and the SP 35. Akhilesh suggested that a few seats should be left for the Congress and RLD, in their strongholds such as Amethi, Rae Bareli and Kairana. But Mayawati maintained that those seats should come from the SP’s share. Her condition for an alliance with the Congress is that it must include not just UP and Madhya Pradesh, but also Punjab, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. She dreams of winning at least 50 parliamentary seats in the coming election to emerge as a contestant for a national role.
Early birth pangs
The hiccups in the Janata Dal (S)-Congress alliance have developed sooner than expected. Former state ministers M B Patil, Satish Jarkiholi and H K Patil and other senior leaders are fuming that the JD(S) has grabbed most of the plum portfolios and of those left for the Congress, several have been allotted to juniors, including some first-time MLAs. Ironically, H D Deve Gowda seems more concerned over the unhappiness in the Congress ranks than the party’s high command in New Delhi. Gowda issued a statement that he didn’t ask for his son H D Kumaraswamy to be made chief minister. Kumaraswamy met M B Patil last week to pacify him. However, Kumaraswamy then muddied the waters by the odd remark that he was reluctant to take the CM’s post because he was frightened of the corruption prevailing in government, that he had heard stories of middlemen in the Secretariat demanding Rs 10 crore for transfers. Former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah saw this as a reflection on him and was understandably furious. Even some Congresspersons who are in the Cabinet are unhappy. G T Deve Gowda, who was earlier given the Higher Education portfolio, grumbled that since he has only passed Class 7, he did not want the ministry. A very senior Congress MP from Karnataka complained to Sonia Gandhi that he was not consulted before the Congress ministers were selected. Sonia explained that at the moment national interests should override state interests. The party cannot afford to pull the plug on the JD(S) till after the 2019 general elections.
Pranab Mukherjee’s recent visit to the RSS headquarters was on everyone’s mind at Rahul Gandhi’s iftaar dinner, but guests politely refrained from asking the chief guest about it. Instead, TMC leader Dinesh Trivedi asked him about the next part of his memoirs. Mukherjee said he wanted to write about his time in Rashtrapati Bhavan while his faculties were still intact. Trivedi responded that he should have no such worry as his faculties “worked overtime”. There are many interpretations regarding Mukherjee’s meeting with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, which has upset the Congress. People forget that Bhagwat had visited Mukherjee four times at Rashtrapati Bhavan and once even stayed overnight. At the time, Bhagwat had invited him to visit Nagpur and the President had promised he would do so after demitting office. Mukherjee wants to establish the fact that he is one of the few senior politicians acceptable to both major political parties, and he wants to keep it that way.
The Director of the SPG (Special Protection Group) has brought to the attention of the Secretary, Security, in the Cabinet Secretariat that during most of Narendra Modi’s regime, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul have not permitted their security personnel to accompany them when they are travelling abroad, even though the SPG has repeatedly pointed out the security threat. The government has now decided that each time the Gandhis leave the country they will have to give an undertaking that they are travelling unaccompanied at their own risk and responsibility. Recently, the SPG dropped Rahul and Sonia at the international airport. Sonia was leaving for her health check-up but the SPG had no clue about her destination.