Arun Jaitley is set to officially resume his duties as finance minister and head the BJP’s publicity committee for the 2019 campaign. This, despite the fact that he had two serious illnesses last year. He underwent a kidney transplant after a renal failure and, within a few months, was diagnosed with sarcoma, a rare cancer of the connective tissue. Even opposition politicians are impressed with the fortitude and stoicism with which Jaitley has taken his ill-health in stride. Except for walking with a brace, he is almost back to normal, though he doesn’t move around in crowded spaces. In the Sloan Kettering hospital in New York, he remained in touch with his duties from afar. Contrary to speculation, there was no need for either chemotherapy or radiation for his tumour since it was detected in the early stages. The malignant tissue near the knee was scooped out and tissue from the hip transplanted. The cancer probably predated the kidney surgery and it was, in fact, Jaitley himself who realised something was amiss when he noticed the skin bloating every time oil was rubbed on his leg.
Mulayam Singh Yadav’s speech in Parliament expressing the hope that Narendra Modi would return as Prime Minister stunned the Opposition. The Samajwadi Party founder appeared somewhat disoriented after his speech and remarked in awe to a journalist that the PM had twice mentioned him in his address to the House. There were other indications last week that the Opposition has yet to put up a united front. A furious Mamata Banerjee accosted Sonia Gandhi in Parliament’s Central Hall, saying she would not forget that Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in his speech earlier that day accused her of involvement in the chit fund scams in West Bengal. Akhilesh Yadav is annoyed with the Congress for abstaining when the SP, joined by the TMC, BSP and TDP, protested in Parliament against the Yogi Adityanath government preventing Akhilesh from boarding a flight to Allahabad. The Congress asked its RJD ally Tejashwi Yadav to boycott the function of an English TV news channel, which, it feels, has a pronounced BJP slant, but the NCP’s Praful Patel went anyway. He says he never lets political differences come in the way of social contacts. For instance, he went for BJD rebel Jay Panda’s book release in the morning and had drinks with Naveen Patnaik the same night.
Keeping BJP guessing
The BJP is faring no better with its allies. The Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut attended Chandrababu Naidu’s Opposition unity rally in which Modi was the target of attack. The BJP remains hopeful of an eventual patch-up. Prakash Javadekar quoted a proverb — “You can’t live with us and you can’t live without us’’ — to describe the on-off-on relationship between the allies. The crux of the dispute is that the Sena wants to play the senior partner in an alliance for the Assembly and insists that this be linked with seat-sharing on the Lok Sabha seats. The BJP hopes the Sena will come around if Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aditya is promised the deputy chief minister’s post.
Last Tuesday, a portrait of Atal Bihari Vajpayee by Krishn Kanhai was installed in Parliament’s Central Hall. The majestic room is now so crowded with portraits that there is little space for additions. To make place for Vajpayee, Lala Lajpat Rai had to be moved to one side. Someone pointed out that the Jawaharlal Nehru portrait is a misfit alongside Rajendra Prasad, Ram Manohar Lohia and Lal Bahadur Shastri. A panel on the opposite side has four portraits, Motilal Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Sardar Patel. It makes sense to swap the positions of Nehru and Patel, the person said.
The photogenic, blue-blooded Gandhis have a fan following even among journalists. A TV news channel assigned a star-struck young woman reporter on a full-time Rahul Gandhi beat. A smart move since, thanks to the regular interaction, the scribe now has a distinct advantage in persuading the Congress president to give a sound byte to her channel. Seeing her proximity, other channels and photographers follow her doggedly in Parliament since she seems to know in advance from which entrance Rahul will emerge and at what time. Another TV channel now seems keen to build a Priyanka Gandhi arrangement. A journalist from the group followed Priyanka Gandhi’s movements in Lucknow so conscientiously that she was tweeting non-stop for 14 hours, though Priyanka spent most of her time in meetings in the Lucknow Congress office. At 4 am, Priyanka emerged to give an exclusive sound byte to the journalist, that she was coming to grips with the Uttar Pradesh party organisation.
This article first appeared in print under the headline: Inside track: Fortitude under fire