Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mocking reference to the “Khan Market Gang” in his interview with The Indian Express has made the posh South Delhi market the focus of attention. Modi suggests that shoppers at the market represent the views of a small elite, opposed to him. Khan Market named after Pashtun leader Ghaffar Khan’s brother, Jabbar Khan, was originally a modest refugee colony with shops below and apartments above. But over the decades, because of its central location, it transformed into a ritzy shopping centre with expensive boutiques, trendy eateries and high-priced imported edibles. The original inhabitants have mostly sold out since real estate prices are today among the most expensive in India. The term “Khan Market Gang” was originally coined by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley as a jocular reference to a group of young MPs from entitled backgrounds who often ate at Khan Market restaurants during Parliament lunch breaks. The original Khan Market gang included second-generation politicians such as Milind Deora, Jitin Prasada, Manvendra Singh and Supriya Sule. By 2014, the only one from the original set left was Sule. Later entrants to the club include Kanimozhi and K Kavitha. Incidentally, Rahul Gandhi also frequents a popular Khan Market restaurant. Some believe that Modi used the term “Khan Market Gang” because he felt it would resonate more with his voters than the expression “Lutyens elite”. The shopkeepers in Khan Market are, however, most upset over its sudden prominence. They fear that the civic authorities could come down heavily on them for unauthorised and unsafe renovations.
Modi team player
In an interview with a Hindi TV channel in Punjab, Narendra Modi pointed out that he had a rich experience of working with coalition governments. Modi’s detractors read his remark as an indication of his nervousness about the poll outcome and that he wanted to clarify that he was capable of running a coalition government. Modi mentioned that he had worked with coalition governments headed by Bansi Lal and Om Prakash Chautala in Haryana, Farooq Abdullah and Mufti Mohammed Sayeed in Kashmir, and Chimanbhai Patel in Gujarat. Some were puzzled by the comment since Modi as PM and chief minister always ran majority governments. In fact, Modi was alluding to the time when he was BJP general secretary in charge of Haryana, J&K and Gujarat and liaised with minority governments in which the BJP was an alliance partner.
Maneka Gandhi was upset that her niece Priyanka Gandhi Vadra campaigned for Congress candidate Sanjay Singh in Sultanpur, from where she is contesting. Out of family loyalty, she herself has always refrained from campaigning in the nearby Gandhi family constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareli, despite pressure from the BJP. Sonia Gandhi’s family had in the past kept away from Sultanpur, when Varun Gandhi was the candidate. Last week, Maneka was returning from an Amit Shah rally and her car suddenly drove past the truck in which Priyanka was standing as part of a road show. Maneka noticed Priyanka first and smiled. Priyanka turned around to see why people were staring and then waved to her aunt.
Campaigning since 13
A biography on Amit Shah has just been released. The book’s co-author is Anirban Ganguly, the director of Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, a BJP think tank. The book is not just about Shah’s life but also how he single-handedly transformed the BJP’s organisational structure and changed its fortunes from 2014 onwards. On the biographical side, Ganguly provides some unfamiliar insights into a politician who is generally reticent about his personal life. Shah has often boasted that he started in the BJP from the bottom rung, writing slogans on the walls and sticking posters. But not many are aware that his first campaign was at the age of 13 when he worked for Maniben Patel, Sardar Patel’s daughter, who was the Janata Party candidate in Mehsana, Gujarat, in 1977.
Narendra Modi campaigned in Madhya Pradesh last week and mocked Digvijaya Singh for not casting his vote. Singh could not vote in his home town Raghogarh since he was tied down in Bhopal in a tough contest. Modi also claimed that Singh had attended one of wanted Islamic preacher Zakir Naik’s lectures. Some are intrigued why the PM waited till after the polls in Bhopal to launch his broadside against Singh. In fact, most of the local BJP leaders stayed away from Pragya Thakur’s campaign and left it to the VHP to campaign for her. Pragya’s aides requested film stars Dharmendra and Sunny Deol to campaign for her. But a lawyer close to Digvijaya Singh who has also been legal counsel for both Dharmendra and his son in a case in Indore, persuaded them to stay away.
This article first appeared in the print edition on May 19, 2019, under the title, ‘Inside Track: Khan Market Gang’.