The photo of Rahul Gandhi’s forced hug of a stiff and stunned Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament could become part of the Congress’s campaign for 2019. The party wants to project the hug as representing its president’s way of demonstrating love and forgiveness, in contrast to the PM’s hate speeches mocking and haranguing the Gandhi family. The Congress message is that Modi and the RSS are trapped in anger and hate which has led to a sense of fear and intolerance in the country. A senior Congress leader indulging in a bit of pop psychology analysed the difference between the BJP/RSS and Congress, observing that the former is basically a patriarchal organisation that views women in only two categories: either as a goddess or a fallen woman. The Congress, however, is largely female in its mindset. Even if the men far outnumber the women, the thinking process is of a ‘Shiva Shakti’ concept, not a separation of roles. The other point the Congress wants to emphasise is that while the PM listens to nobody, believing he always knows best, Rahul is keen to take the conversation forward by listening to the views of all sections of society.
Dog has his day
Guess whose photo is on Rahul Gandhi’s mobile screensaver? Not his mother, his best friend or his party symbol. It is his pet dog Pidi, whom he made famous by tweeting about him jocularly. Pidi, a Jack Russell, first came to public attention when former Congressman Himanta Biswa Sarma complained in 2016 that Gandhi was preoccupied feeding the dog biscuits instead of discussing Assam politics before the state elections. Rahul describes his pet as being good-looking, intelligent and charming. He even proudly posted a video of Pidi’s party tricks. Pidi is acknowledged as the outstanding performer in his litter, all the siblings being the offspring of a Doon school chum’s pet Jack Russell. Some attribute Pidi’s special intelligence to the fact that he has been trained by Rahul’s SPG guards.
Earlier this month, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari deputed popular Marathi actor and writer Nana Patekar to act as a go-between for a patch-up between the BJP and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. Patekar sought to explain to Thackeray that if he cut ties with the BJP, the Shiv Sena would be wiped out. Recent polls in the state have shown the Sena’s vote share steadily declining. Thackeray’s caustic response was that his party would in any case be decimated if it continued with the BJP as Amit Shah has no respect for allies.
A section of the Congress is furious that a veteran like Kamal Nath should have publicly displayed his eagerness to tie up with Mayawati’s BSP in Madhya Pradesh. By showing his hand so early in the game, Nath has made a shrewd player like Mayawati all the more determined to strike a hard bargain. She insists the Congress share its seats with the BSP in its strongholds such as Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Karnataka for the Lok Sabha elections. However, Congress persons in these states are reluctant to part with seats for Mayawati in a pre-poll alliance next year. They feel the tie-up is only feasible if Mayawati, in exchange, allots at least 10 seats in her bastion of UP to the Congress. They point out that earlier alliances with the BSP in UP ended up with the Congress getting the short end of the stick. Mayawati stole the Congress’s Dalit vote for all time and they do not want a repeat performance in other states. Those who are opposed to being generous towards Mayawati in the interests of Opposition unity point out that she herself has generally been unfriendly towards the Congress. In Punjab, she conspired with the Akali Dal to put up BSP candidates who cut into the Congress vote during the Assembly elections. In Haryana, she has reached an agreement with an old enemy of the Congress, Chautala’s INLD, and now she is talking independently to Congress allies Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra and Tejashwi Yadav in Bihar.
Honour code broken
The chapter on Modi in Karan Thapar’s very readable new book Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story has many senior members of the Modi government red-faced. The author quotes private conversations with Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Arun Jaitley, Prakash Javadekar, Sambit Patra and Nripendra Misra, as well as Pavan Varma, the JD(U) spokesperson. Varma tweeted that it was unethical to quote off-the-record remarks, which in any case were total embellishments of the truth. Thapar was not contrite, responding that Varma was having a senior moment. The author offered no explanation, however, for violating the basic code of journalism.