Of the five Assembly elections due in 2016, Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala, the BJP is conscious that its brightest hope is in Assam. It learnt its lesson from the Bihar debacle. The party has announced its chief ministerial candidate in advance, appointing Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal as its state chief. This time there will be less micromanagement by BJP president Amit Shah. The local unit will now have a greater say.
Outsiders like Bhupendra Yadav, Dharmendra Pradhan and Ananth Kumar will not be allowed to call the shots as in Bihar. There may be posters of Modi, but Shah will no longer be projected, as was the case in Bihar. While the purse strings in Bihar were held by the central leadership, and publicity material and infrastructure were organised by Shah to prevent leakage of funds, it has been decided that in Assam, each candidate will have a greater say over how the budget is spent in the constituency. The prime minister will address far fewer rallies this time, than he did in Bihar.
Man to watch
On paper, Lalu Prasad’s elder son Tej Pratap Yadav is more qualified than his younger brother Tejashwi Yadav — Tej is a college dropout whereas the younger son and deputy chief minister Tejashwi has completed his schooling only up to the ninth grade. But Tejashwi went to a public school in Delhi and is far more articulate and politically savvy than his brother, who was sent to the local school in Patna. Lalu Prasad, who was reluctant to make his elder son a minister, but was pushed by his wife Rabri, fears that Tej Pratap may become an easy target for the media because of his eccentric behaviour.
Tej Pratap is a devotee of Lord Krishna and Sai Baba and has built a Sai temple inside his mother’s house on Circular Road where he spends hours praying. His other passion is his expensive motorbike. Tej Pratap came to public notice on the day of his oath-taking, when he mispronounced words and was corrected by the Governor. On the first day as health minister, Tej Pratap got into an argument with photographers and ordered them out of his office using abusive language.
Though he has not yet fixed the ticklish problem of dropped calls, Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has made major progress in other areas in his ministry. BSNL was in the red to the extent of Rs 8,000 crore when he took charge. Now it has turned the corner reporting a Rs 672 crore operating profit. At BSNL’s recent annual general body meeting it was announced that revenues were up by 4.1 per cent, the highest in the last five years. The number of mobile customers has gone up from 7.60 crore in April to 7.95 crore in October. The turnaround has come about because Prasad sent the message down the line that BSNL would adopt competitive policies to best the private sector and not sit back and make way for private players. As an inducement, incoming mobile calls were made free while landline BSNL calls during the night time are free.
Secretary General of the Rajya Sabha, Shamsher Sheriff, organised a workshop for some 250 directors and deputy secretary-level officers in government who prepare written answers for MPs, who pose written questions in Parliament during Question Hour. Several officers sought clarifications on contentious issues. A valuable piece of advice from the Rajya Sabha secretariat was that officers should not club different issues together in a reply. Instead, they should list them separately. Bunching the reply gives the impression that the government is trying to circumvent the issue and avoid giving answers. Officers were advised that the common ministerial response, “Let me look into the matter’’, is not a good idea. The response might sound innocuous but in Parliamentary parlance, it amounts to an assurance and therefore, the minister will have to follow up with an explanation of the actual position. If he does not do so, he could be hauled up before the Parliamentary Committee on Assurances, a powerful body.
One sided hugs
Arvind Kejriwal is red-faced after the BJP splashed Delhi with posters showing him in a bear hug with Lalu Prasad, whom he has often criticised for corruption. Kejriwal now insists that it was Lalu Prasad who took the initiative in embracing him and raising his hand in solidarity. His plight was similar to Nitish Kumar in 2012 at an NDA rally in Punjab. There, Modi had grabbed Kumar’s hand and raised it in a sign of mutual cordiality, much to the Bihar CM’s embarrassment.