The delay in the swearing-in of the three new Congress chief ministers was not only because of the tussle over CM posts. The first auspicious day after the result declaration was December 17, the preceding five days are termed as ‘panchak’ and considered inauspicious according to the Hindu calendar. The three oath-taking ceremonies, in Bhopal, Jaipur and Raipur, were all held on the same day, and Rahul Gandhi took a jumbo party of a few senior Congresspersons and leaders of various alliance partners to each venue. The convoy of planes, a six-seater, an eight-seater and an 18-seater, belonged to Kamal Nath, the Jindal group and a leading industrialist of Andhra Pradesh. The CMs of each state waited for Gandhi and his contingent to arrive before taking oath. Some southern MPs were surprised at the unpunctuality since they are accustomed to chief ministers being sworn in at a very precise and carefully calculated timing, both for superstitious reasons and for meticulously adhering to the official programme. After being sworn in, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot did not even proceed to their offices to take charge, instead they flew to Chhattisgarh with the rest of the Gandhi entourage. The ceremony at Raipur was delayed, from 5 pm to 7 pm. On Mamata Banerjee’s instructions, TMC MPs Dinesh Trivedi and Nadimul Haque attended the functions in Bhopal and Jaipur respectively at their own expense. As a TMC MP put it, “We were at the wedding, but not part of the baraat.’’
No repeat of 1996
M K Stalin’s announcement that Rahul Gandhi would be the leader of the united Opposition upset most of the Congress’s allies since they are against pitching the 2019 electoral fight as a battle between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. They believe that this can only benefit Modi. Actually, they may be selling Rahul Gandhi short. Gandhi, who has emerged from his chrysalis as a seasoned politician, was the first to clarify that leadership would be decided only after the parliamentary polls. He also displayed political opportunism by proposing farm loan waivers throughout the country to embarrass the government. Besides, Gandhi treats potential electoral partners with utmost respect. At the oath-taking ceremonies, Gandhi personally asked Congresspersons in the front rows to move to the back and make space for representatives of small parties, even for those with just one or two MPs. Most of the UPA allies have been completely won over by Gandhi and say firmly that they will not allow the tail to wag the dog in 2019, as was the case in 1996.
Will she, won’t she?
The elephant in the room is Mayawati. Will she agree to an alliance with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh? Some believe that Mayawati’s adamant stand is not merely because she wants a bigger share of the pie. They calculate that it suits the SP and BSP for the Congress to fight independently, since the Congress will cut into the BJP’s Brahmin vote. The Congress, however, remains sanguine that after February, the BSP will join ranks, once the code of conduct is in effect and Mayawati’s family can no longer be pursued by Union government agencies over financial irregularities.
Father unmakes Son
Rebel BJP leader Yashwant Sinha has left no stone unturned in his stinging criticism of Narendra Modi’s four-and-a-half years in government in a book titled India Unmade, which is to be released early next year. Sinha cites so many cases of bad governance, that the Congress needs to do little homework for the 2019 campaign. Sinha concludes bitterly, “Modi has given India its lost half-decade. Elect him again and by 2024, it will be a lost decade.’’ So, did he think of the political future of his son Jayant Sinha, still a minister in Modi’s government, when he wrote the book? Sinha replies that this was not his concern. And counters, “Did the son think of his father when he went his own way?’’
After its defeat in the state elections, the BJP can take a little comfort in winning all the mayoral posts in Haryana. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, an RSS pracharak, was picked by Modi because the two shared an accommodation some two decades ago when both lived in Delhi. But after a shaky start, the greenhorn in politics has proved his mettle. In the mayoral elections, the Congress was a divided house and though candidates were endorsed by Congress leaders, they were not allotted the party symbol. Kamal Nath, who was in charge of Haryana, visited the state only twice on organisational work. No general secretaries and secretaries have been appointed for the last two-and-a-half-years and the president, Ashok Tanwar, is a lightweight.