The chai pe charcha on GST between Narendra Modi and Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh presented an interesting insight into the manner in which summit-level discussions are handled. It was obvious to the experienced eye that the tea party would not have happened unless there was a broad agreement that the GST bill must be passed in the winter session. The rest is a matter of detail.
In fact, through the day, there was a flurry of backroom exchanges between Congress and BJP leaders to craft a smooth passage to the Modi-Sonia summit. After all, it was going to be their first ever direct discussion.
Interestingly, the two who did most of the talking over tea were Arun Jaitley on behalf of the government as he argued technical points and Sonia Gandhi who stated the Congress position on the three sticking points. Modi did the diplomatic speaking to request Sonia for the Congress party&’s help in passing this crucial tax reform and ensuring a disruption-free session so that pending legislative business is cleared.
Although GST is his subject, Manmohan Singh hardly spoke. One wonders whether he was silent because he doesn’t agree with his party&’s objections to the bill or whether he doesn’t have the political authority to speak in front of Sonia.
The fact that the meeting ended on a cordial note has raised hopes that the GST bill will pass. But the Congress is determined to make the Modi government sweat for it. The general understanding is that the bill will go through towards the end of the session. The Congress has put the BJP on notice to refrain from attacking the party and its leadership if it wants the bill passed. The BJP has accordingly instructed its MPs not to provoke Congress benches and to be as nice as possible.
Ready to step down
Sonia Gandhi appears keen to hand over the reins of the Congress to Rahul Gandhi as soon as possible. Her loaded comments to senior leaders following the party&’s impressive showing in Bihar have set off speculation that the elevation of the Gandhi scion could happen early next year.
The one-year extension of her term as president in September was a “temporary” thing, Sonia is believed to have told a leader who sought to congratulate her recently. She told this leader that her term was extended only to fulfill a technical Election Commission requirement. It&’s been 17 years, time to step down, she is believed to have said.
When another leader congratulated her for the Bihar victory, she brushed him aside saying that she had little to do with it. Rahul did everything, she said.
The power shift to Rahul&’s residence on Tughlaq Lane is already evident. Increasingly, party leaders troop there, instead of 10 Janpath, with their problems and requests.
Rahul&’s new-found confidence after his Bihar success bubbled over in an unusual engagement with Mamata Banerjee in Patna where both had gone to attend Nitish Kumar&’s swearing-in ceremony. The encounter happened on the tarmac of the Patna airport. Mamata was waiting to catch a flight back to Kolkata and Rahul was boarding the private plane in which he flew to Patna.
Since Mamata&’s flight was delayed, she decided to take a walk on the tarmac. It was late evening and quite dark. Suddenly, she heard a voice calling out, “Mamataji, Mamataji.” It was Rahul Gandhi. He was just about to board the plane when he spotted her and decided to hail her.
They exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes. Rahul complimented her for using her time well by taking a walk. He said he too loves to walk. Then, he pressed her hand and told her that they must meet when she is in Delhi next. He sprinted up the stairs into his plane and flew off, leaving Mamata dumbfounded. This was a side of Rahul she had never seen. So what&’s cooking?
The return of Misa
Although Lalu Yadav&’s sons are ministers in Nitish Kumar&’s government in Bihar, RJD rank and file know that the real power in the party is Lalu&’s eldest daughter Misa. She runs the party with her father and is assuming increased responsibility.
In fact, political circles say that it was Misa who sorted out the dispute in the family over which son would join the government. The younger son Tejaswi is his father&’s favourite and Lalu had made up his mind that he should be the deputy chief minister. He had no intention of putting the elder one, Tej Pratap, in the cabinet.
It seems Tej Pratap threw a massive sulk and refused to speak to his father. Misa intervened and persuaded Lalu to request Nitish for a berth for Tej Pratap for the sake of peace in the family. She then cajoled Tej Pratap into accepting the fact that his younger brother would be the deputy CM and get a high profile ministry. She told Tej Pratap that he would have to be content with a lesser ministry. He has been given health.
Misa&’s growing clout in the party was on display at the oath-taking ceremony at Patna&’s Gandhi maidan. She was the first to reach and was supervising all the arrangements and deciding the seating order.