The recent rumbles in H D Kumaraswamy’s government, nicknamed Operation Lotus, have not been caused by the BJP, which knows it is well short of a majority. It was due to the infighting between Congress stalwarts, former CM Siddaramaiah and senior minister D K Shivakumar. Siddaramaiah, who was once in the JD(S), feels Kumaraswamy has marginalised him. At one point, Siddaramaiah reportedly suggested to Rahul Gandhi that it made better sense to pull out from the government since the non-performing JD(S) will handicap the Congress in the parliamentary polls. Because of Siddaramaiah’s manoeuvres, some seven Congress MLAs went missing. A panicky CM approached a few BJP MLAs to counter Siddaramaiah’s move. In a bid to guard its flock, the BJP whisked all its MLAs to a resort in Gurugram. The topple bid ended with the MLAs resurfacing. But Siddaramaiah made his point that he can be ignored by the ruling alliance at its peril.
It is a mistake for the BSP-SP alliance in UP to count its chickens before they hatch. The gathbandhan may have the arithmetic of caste on its side, but there are other imponderables. True, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has proved to be a liability unable to enforce law and order, but BJP chief Amit Shah does have some aces up his sleeve. Most assume that the BJP will prioritise the Hindutva card, but in fact the focus of the campaign is more likely to be development. In the last eight months, the Central government has made a big push to fast-track the Prime Minister’s key programmes in Uttar Pradesh, in co-ordination with select state ministers. The funds for building toilets, houses for the poor and gas cylinders have shot up. UP Power Minister Shrikant Sharma, who is in regular touch with the PMO and Power Ministry in Delhi, has been remarkably successful on the electricity front, increasing the state’s supply in peak season and ironing out problems in the grid and power distribution to the remote interiors. Union Communications Minister Manoj Sinha points out that for the first time in 70 years the UP farmer can sleep at night during the sowing season because pumps now work during the day because of the availability of electricity. The Opposition counters that the farmers now stay awake at nights chasing away cows from their fields.
Akhilesh Yadav refers to Mayawati as bua, but the BSP leader’s real bhatija, Akash Anand, is often seen by her side of late. The cherubic-looking bespectacled Akash dressed in western clothing has proximity, but only time will tell whether the MBA from London also has clout. Another who has recently joined Mayawati’s inner circle is Mohammad Jamil Akhtar. He is seen as a replacement for Naseemuddin Siddiqui, once described as the BSP’s Muslim face. Naseemuddin was expelled more than a year ago reportedly for unauthorised fund collections. Akhtar, a former journalist, who authored a biography of Mayawati, knows that to survive in the BSP, he must keep a low profile and remain tight-lipped. His former colleagues in the profession have a tough time extracting any information from him.
Wait your turn
The old order in the Congress has not yielded to the new, as was expected after the takeover of Rahul Gandhi as party president. Kamal Nath, 72, beat Jyotiraditya Scindia, 48, to the post of Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, and Ashok Gehlot, 67, bested an over-eager Sachin Pilot, 41, for chief ministership of Rajasthan. Gehlot remarked smugly that it had taken him 14 years after being appointed state president to become chief minister. Similarly, Anand Sharma’s appointment as publicity incharge for the 2019 campaign means that the high-profile, opinionated youngsters in the Congress media cell, from Randeep Surjewala, who heads the division, to social media in-charge Divya Spandana find their noses slightly out of joint. Sharma believes that a media campaign has to rely more on conventional communication through television and newspapers, rather than social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, which are viewed by only a minor segment of voters. He is also keen that an overall media policy is adhered to by all spokespersons, so that mavericks do not cross the line.
The Congress was made such a paltry offer by Mayawati in UP that the Grand Old Party felt it was beneath its dignity to accept. It believed it could do better fighting on its own. But veteran Congress leaders from UP appear pessimistic about their prospects. Both Raj Babbar, UP Congress president, and former cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin, the working party president in Telangana, are reportedly keen on contesting instead from the Mumbai North West constituency, since Priya Dutt has opted out.