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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Inside Track: Unlike the old days, BJP today is extraordinarily cavalier towards allies

In the old days, Pramod Mahajan and L K Advani had developed a personal rapport with the Thackeray family and frequently played the role of peacemakers with their demanding partner.

Written by Coomi Kapoor | Updated: December 8, 2019 10:11:34 am
bjp shiv sena allies, uddhav thackeray, maharashtra thackeray, pramod mahajan, jairam ramesh, latest news, indian express Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Governor B S Koshyari, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and former CM Devendra Fadnavis, at the Pune airport (Express photo/Ashish Kale)

Thanks to the BJP’s hubris, there was no one in the party, except possibly Nitin Gadkari, who could have acted as an intermediary when the Shiv Sena was parting company. In the old days, Pramod Mahajan and L K Advani had developed a personal rapport with the Thackeray family and frequently played the role of peacemakers with their demanding partner. But, the BJP today is extraordinarily cavalier towards allies.

Last week, Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral requested Speaker Om Birla to organise a function in Parliament to mark the birth centenary of his father, the late Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral. He also asked that a postal stamp be issued and the Central government sponsor newspaper advertisements to commemorate the centenary.

While Naresh Gujral received no positive response from the Modi government, ironically, the non-NDA state governments of Punjab, Delhi and Maharashtra put out ads to honour Gujral’s memory.

Lost in the House

Congress MP Jairam Ramesh was clearly jittery in Parliament when he lost his cellphone, which, presumably, contained a lot of confidential WhatsApp messages to party leaders. After scouring the benches of Central Hall, Ramesh wondered if he could have left his phone, which was in silent mode, in the House.

A helpful journalist suggested he approach Parliament’s central security office, which keeps videotapes of Rajya Sabha proceedings. A thorough scanning of the tapes revealed that Ramesh was last seen in the House sitting next to Minister of State V Muralee-dharan and enquiring about a Bill.

Muraleedharan later noticed a mobile phone near his seat and handed it to fellow minister Purushottam Rupala, who in turn passed it on to the Watch and Ward staff. When a frantic Ramesh enquired about his phone, Rupala joked that he had retrieved it, but first taken a peek at all the Maharashtra contacts on his phone.

Sudden cancellation

The powerful right-wing think tank India Foundation has been hosting civic receptions in the Capital for visiting heads of neighbouring countries. The foundation was to host a reception for Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksha last week, which was cancelled at the last moment.

The excuse was that there was no security-cleared venue available in Delhi. Some wondered whether the calling-off of the reception was a snub to Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary and director of the foundation. Madhav is considered the pointperson for the government in foreign affairs, but of late, he has been out of favour.

The return of Ajit

The Pawar family’s much-publicised display of trust and affection for Ajit Pawar, who was said to have stabbed them in the back, has raised eyebrows. It appears that Sharad Pawar, in fact, asked Ajit to explore the possibility of a tie-up with former BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

The NCP patriarch was in no hurry to form a government in Maharashtra and was simply testing the waters to find out from which camp the NCP could secure a better deal. Ajit and several other MLAs believed that they had more to gain from allying with the BJP than being part of a shaky three-party coalition. While Pawar waffled and procrastinated, Ajit presented his uncle with a fait accompli.

For the NCP, the BJP is not untouchable and, in fact, there were some discussions on this even before the Assembly polls. Ajit had not bargained that Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule and wife Pratibhatai, who were apparently taken aback at the midnight coup, strongly felt that it was morally wrong for the NCP to desert the Congress. Some Congress leaders, such as general secretary K C Venugopal, were equally thunderstruck. A seasoned veteran like Ahmed Patel was shrewder and simply enquired of the NCP, “What is all this drama?’’

How to make friends

Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut, who has emerged as one of the key figures in the new Maharashtra government, knows how to make friends. He started life as a copy boy at Lokprabha, a magazine distributed with the Indian Express’s Marathi newspaper, Loksatta.

There, he met Raj Thackeray, Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s nephew who occasionally drew cartoons for the magazine. Raj brought Raut to work at the Sena magazine Marmik, where Bal Thackeray was so impressed with Raut that he eventually made him the editor of the party’s ideological mouthpiece Saamna.

When Uddhav and Raj fell out, after Bal Thackeray nominated his son as his successor, Raut remained with Uddhav and became the public voice of Thackeray Senior’s shy, soft-spoken son. However, Raut himself remained friends with Raj. Importantly, he is also very close to NCP chief Sharad Pawar. In fact, old-time Sena loyalists refer to him sourly as Pawar’s man in the Sena.

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