The three main issues which will dominate the Opposition’s campaign in the 2019 election will be joblessness, farmer distress and the ‘attack on democratic institutions’ by the BJP government. Fighting against communalism and corruption, as represented by the Rafale deal, will be of secondary importance. This was the consensus among the representatives of 21 parties which met in Delhi on January 31 to discuss the use of EVMs in elections. It was the first time so many parties had met to formally chart out a common minimum agenda. Later, Rahul Gandhi voiced the views of the Opposition at a press conference. But the next day, Sharad Pawar, accompanied by Arvind Kejriwal, Derek O’Brien, Farooq Abdullah and Chandrababu Naidu, held a second press conference on the same subject. The message seemed to be that it should not be automatically assumed that Rahul is the sole spokesperson for the Opposition. Adding grist to the mill, on Wednesday night, Pawar held a dinner with representatives of all political parties, including Congress leaders and the BJP’s Nitin Gadkari, at his house.
It appears that the BJP has shelved plans to get the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, and the triple talaq Bill passed. Pressure from NDA allies over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill has mounted. Both Bills did not figure in the list of business placed before the Rajya Sabha Business Advisory Committee last week. Since the Budget Session ends on February 13, there is little time left. True, the BJP can always spring a surprise, as it did with the Bill for 10 per cent reservation for economically weak in the general category which was announced only at noon on the day of the presentation. But the PM will be out of the Capital next week.
Lacuna in party
In a television interview last year, Akhilesh Yadav remarked jocularly that there was place for Amar Singh in the party, but would Uncle Amar leave the PM? Singh took this to imply that the SP leader is feeling the absence of the party’s key brains trust, fund collectors and organisational chiefs, Shivpal Yadav, Naresh Agarwal and Singh. Actually, Akhilesh’s real concern is father Mulayam Singh Yadav. Now 79, ‘Netaji’ is sitting quietly at home with his second wife Sadhana, and sending mixed signals. Singh suggests that it may not be a simple question of caste arithmetic in Uttar Pradesh, as the media assumes. “What happens to the 40 BSP, 40 SP candidates who expected tickets and are now jobless?” he asks mischievously, referring to the fact that many who were promised tickets would not be obliged in the alliance.
Amit Shah has no love lost for the media. Which is probably why he held his press conference at 10.30 am last Sunday to announce that the party was organising 7,000 boxes to be taken around the country for people to put in suggestions for the party’s manifesto. Sunday mornings are sacrosanct for newspersons, who seldom stir out before noon, particularly in Delhi’s chilly winter. But the BJP president could hardly be ignored, so bleary-eyed journalists turned up in strength. Shah talked down to the media, cut journalists short in the middle of questions and even suggested to one woman scribe that instead of wasting time she should simply put her advice into one of the BJP’s suggestion boxes. Rajnath Singh, who is the head of the manifesto committee, barely spoke, since Shah monopolised the mike.
Game of numbers
With the tussle between Mamata Banerjee and the BJP hogging all the attention, few noticed that the numbers at the CPM rally in Kolkata last Sunday was in fact much higher than Mamata’s much touted United India rally for opposition leaders from all over the country two weeks earlier at the same venue. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted videos of the two rallies as proof. The Bengali media did not interpret it as a revival of the Left. One conspiracy theory is that Mamata had secretly helped with infrastructure for the rally of her arch foe. It is in the TMC’s electoral interest that the CPM retains its base of 20 per cent vote share so that the BJP, which is increasingly been viewed as her main rival, does not benefit. The other theory is that the BJP itself helped swell the numbers in order to hit out at the common foe. Both explanations sound far-fetched. Perhaps the real reason the CPM supporters outnumbered the TMC gathering was that, on the day of the TMC’s rally, police security for the many visiting Mahagathbandhan leaders was so stringent that several roads to the venue ground were blocked, and buses bringing in participants had per force to park several kilometres away.