It was the morning of the long knives in Maharashtra when Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) helped Devendra Fadnavis and his Bharatiya Janata Party form the government in the state. But a little birdie tells us that all had been not well even earlier in the NCP-Shiv Sena-Congress camp. As negotiations for government formation continued, leaders from all three parties suspected the role of Praful Patel. The NCP leader, who is more of a businessman than a politician, was seen as the BJP’s mole who didn’t want the talks to fructify. There were whispers that Patel had insisted on the inclusion of the word, secular, in the common minimum programme in the hope that it will trigger a fracas between the Sena and the Congress. The reason for suspicion about his role is the knowledge that Patel had facilitated the entry of a number of Congress and NCP leaders into the BJP before the polls. That Patel is embroiled in legal cases is also seen as a compulsion for him to keep Amit Shah in good humour. People know of his meetings with Shah in the past few years. It is another matter that some Congress leaders suspected even the role of Sharad Pawar, arguing that he will never allow the anti-BJP game to succeed in Maharashtra. One Congress MP said much before the BJP coup, “[e]xpect a dramatic turn till the oath is taken.” And, indeed, a stunning drama followed.
The choice of Om Birla, only a two-term MP, for the Speaker’s post had surprised many in the party File picture
Most BJP MPs, when they get an opportunity to speak in the Lok Sabha, hail the prime minister. This is understandable, since Narendra Modi has emerged as the most popular and successful leader the saffron party has ever had. Of late, many BJP MPs and even some members from the Opposition can be heard hailing the Speaker, Om Birla, as well. “Before I speak on my subject, I want to thank you [Speaker] that you take care of our progress and inspire us to raise issues relating to our constituencies. We are benefiting a lot to have a Speaker like you,” said the young BJP MP, Pritam Munde, in the House on Thursday, causing Birla’s face to light up. The choice of Birla, only a two-term MP, for the Speaker’s post had surprised many in the party. Before his selection, he had rarely been heard speaking in the House. Birla’s roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and low profile had acted in his favour.
But Birla becomes a changed man when on the Speaker’s chair. On Friday, the House was dealing with questions on plastic waste and Birla immediately grabbed the opportunity and proposed that the House should take a pledge to put an end to single-use plastic. “This House represents the country’s 130 crore people. Can we not take a pledge to put an end to single-use plastic?” Birla asked and both sides in Parliament nodded in agreement. “We can have a special sitting… When the Parliament of India takes pledge then it will send out a message to the world,” the Speaker added. Outside the House, some BJP MPs were heard saying that Birla had hit two birds with one stone: he has made Modi happy and earned a name for himself too.
Mind the gap
Many bureaucrats are reportedly getting disenchanted with the PM. Privately, they say that the gap between his word and deed is difficult to digest. One officer revealed how the PM pulled up all those involved with the Swachh Bharat campaign for poor performance at a recent meeting. He said that Modi was angry without appreciating the ground reality that most of the funds allocated had gone not into the real work but the publicity campaign. But nobody could muster the courage to point this out to the PM. Consequently, they had to digest the rebuke amidst much unease. Modi’s opponents suggest that this is further proof of the PM being a strong leader.
Since the sedition case of 2016, students of Jawaharlal Nehru University have often faced public jibes of being terrorists. The anti-fee hike stir, however, has got a favourable response from the aam aadmi. Reporters found it hard to get quotes from motorists blaming students for the blockade of a road in South Delhi last week. One commuter even said it was the police that was harassing motorists, not the students. Before a lathi-charge on a student march, parents picking up their children from a school came up and congratulated the students for fighting for the future of schoolkids. The police crackdown was the talk of the town. The march by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad was accompanied by a much-mellowed police. A sub-inspector was heard telling a Delhi University student, “Why don’t you ask your party why they’ve hiked the fees, instead of protesting. Can’t the government give scholarships, instead of sending us to deal with you?”
R Roshan Baig had become a pariah after he ditched the Congress with the hope of joining the BJP. But the BJP does not want him now because of corruption charges. Baig was one of the 17 lawmakers whose resignations brought down the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition in Karnataka. Since the Congress has resolved not to touch those who quit with a bargepole, Baig’s political future and his grand plans to launch his son appear bleak.
DK Shivakumar (PTI)
Apples are a great draw for Congress workers these days. DK Shivakumar has been attracting massive crowds after his return from Tihar jail over money-laundering charges. To show their love, local leaders throw big money on apple garlands held up high by cranes for Shivakumar. But the scramble begins the moment they are lowered as party workers lunge to grab their share from the apple garland. The Congress must be wishing if only apples were votes!