Hardik a help?
Did the alliance with Hardik Patel help or hinder the Congress campaign? The poll results suggest that the Patels were sharply divided. In fact, only two of the six Patel candidates endorsed by Hardik won. The Patels of Surat voted overwhelmingly for the BJP. The Patels of north Gujarat were divided between the two parties. It was only in Saurashtra that the Patels voted en bloc for the Congress.
The whole of Saurashtra, not just the Patels, was against the ruling party because of the agrarian distress. In fact, Hardik succeeded in converting a campaign against incumbency into a caste battle.
With the fiery Patel youth leader supporting the Congress, anti-Patel OBC communities such as Thakors and Kolis voted in large numbers for the BJP. Saurashtra’s Patels are so furious with their brethren in Surat for letting them down that they have vowed not to give their daughters in marriage to Surat Patels or carry prized gifts of ghee and butter milk (chaas) to Surat. Incidentally, it was Union Minister of State Mansukh Mandaviya who played a stellar role in bringing around the Patels of Surat.
When Parliament opened the previous Friday, the Parliament canteen, run by the Railway Ministry, had a brand new menu filled with a whole range of Gujarati items, from fafda and khamand to vatana (pea) samosas, dudhi na muthya and thepla.
Most MPs, particularly those from the South, were annoyed since they are not fans of the Gujarati sweet and sour flavour and grumbled about the gastronomic imperialism. A P S Jitendra Reddy, the TRS leader in the Lok Sabha, who is also chairperson of the food committee, complained that he was not consulted about the changes in the menu. The issue reportedly went before Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan for arbitration.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal was quick to dispel the suggestion that there was any connection between the introduction of the new fare and the arrival of Amit Shah, the new Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat, to Parliament. He explained that the Gujarati snacks from Gujarat Bhavan were simply part of an experiment to give MPs an opportunity to savour food from different states. He promised that Kashmiri and Odiya snacks would be offered next.
The plot thickens
In 2007, the UPA government allotted major political parties large plots of land on Delhi’s Deendayal Upadhyay Marg to build party offices, on the understanding that they would vacate their government quarters within two years.
However, several plots are still lying vacant. In 2009, the Congress conducted bhoomi puja on its own four-acre plot, but there has been little progress since, reportedly due to shortage of funds. The BJP woke up belatedly and laid the foundation stone for its office building only in August 2016. But the party is making up for lost time. Piyush Goyal was put in charge of the project and, in little over a year, a seven-storey modern structure has come up on the two-acre plot.
The building reportedly has 70 rooms and a sophisticated auditorium which is to be used for interactions with the media. Goyal denies a rumour that there will be a helipad on the roof for the convenience of visiting state chief ministers and other VIPs. The building will be inaugurated early next year.
There is a danger that the Congress and some other parties will be asked to give up their government quarters since it has been a decade since they were allotted alternative space and were given several extensions.
A BJP leader was unsympathetic at the possibility that the Congress might be turfed out of 24 Akbar Road although it has no alternative accommodation. He pointed out that back in the 1980s, the Congress was the only party offered a prime plot on Rajendra Prasad Road and it built a high-rise office. But it was soon converted into the exclusive preserve of the Rajiv Gandhi Trust.
No fight left
On his first day in Parliament’s Central Hall, BJP president Amit Shah made it a point to walk up to BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi and touch his feet. But, apart from the respect shown, Shah is unwilling to offer gainful employment to the members of the party’s Margdarshak Mandal.
Some time ago, an attempt by some BJP dissidents to stage a revolt by trying to persuade L K Advani to propose Joshi’s name for the vice-president’s post fizzled out. Advani did not bite the bait. The only one of the elder generation still fighting to remain relevant is Yashwant Sinha, who campaigned against his party in Gujarat. Asked whether he was not harming the interests of his son, MoS Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha, he reportedly retorted that he would always pick the country over his family.
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