Poor Venkaiah Naidu! Among the many names that were doing the rounds for the post of the next President of India was his. But his appointment as member of the three-man committee set up by Amit Shah to talk to allies and opposition parties nixed that.

The appointment was a direct message to Naidu that he was no longer in the reckoning. After all, he could not go around trying to evolve a consensus for himself, could he! Of course, Naidu can still nurture hopes to bag the vice president’s post for which the election is due in August, a month after the presidential poll.

Those who know him say that he has set his heart on being nominated to one of the two posts, president or vice president. But Naidu better lie low.

As we have seen, Narendra Modi has a penchant for pulling rabbits out of a hat. He also has a distinct preference for low profile, noncontroversial leaders with whom he can establish a comfortable rapport. His choice of Ram Nath Kovind for the next President is a perfect example of this.

Apart from being a Dalit, Kovind is a good foil for the present dispensation. He is a man of few words and plays by the book. Naidu has acquired a reputation for being too garrulous and too sycophantic.

Trouble in AAP

After a few weeks of relative peace, trouble has broken out again in AAP. At a recent party executive meeting, Kumar Vishwas was a target of vicious attack by a section of Kejriwal loyalists who accused him of being in league with expelled former water minister Kapil Mishra. The attack mounted on Vishwas descended to petty levels. According to eyewitnesses, his critics called him a sadak chhaap kavi who was unknown till he was picked up and promoted by AAP.

They told him that many of them had given up lucrative careers to join AAP and work as unpaid volunteers. Vishwas was the only one who had gained monetarily after joining the party, they alleged. One of the particularly angry critics told him that he is now charging Rs.10 lakh for an appearance at a song and poetry evening. Vishwas was apparently quite dumbfounded at the depth of anger against him. At one point, he had emerged as the pivot for a rebellion against Kejriwal. But it was shortlived.

After a midnight peace meeting with Kejriwal at his residence, Vishwas thought he had put it all behind him. That’s why when Kapil Mishra launched his tirade against Kejriwal, Vishwas distanced himself from the attack and supported the Delhi chief minister. Obviously, the divisions in the party run deep and there are many AAP leaders who harbour huge resentment against Vishwas. Speculation has started again whether he is on his way out of the party.

Rahul: missing again

Rahul Gandhi seems to have perfected the art of disappearing just when politics reaches a critical point. Some in the Congress are wondering whether he does it deliberately as a form of protest at not being allowed to take full control of the party and run things his own way. He’s off to Italy to see his ailing maternal grandmother despite the fact that negotiations on the upcoming presidential poll have reached a critical stage.

Six months ago, he had disappeared in the middle of preparations for upcoming assembly polls. Punjab was an important state in which the Congress hoped to make a comeback. But Rahul was missing from the manifesto release function.

And his absence delayed the finalisation of the list of candidates which slowed down the Congress campaign. The party won despite this. Some see this as a sign of Rahul’s increasing irrelevance to Congress politics despite regular speculation that he will soon take over as Congress president.

A section of the party feels that Rahul is quite frustrated that he is not getting his way. Sometimes his mother holds him back because she is cautious. Sometimes, the old guard out maneuvers him and puts a spoke in his plans. They say his disappearances are strategically planned to register his annoyance.

Interestingly, Rahul was not included in the sub-committee of opposition leaders formed to discuss names for a joint presidential candidate against the NDA’s nominee.

Mamata’s choice

It is interesting that Sushma Swaraj’s name as a possible NDA nominee for president gained ground after Mamata Banerjee indicated that her party would be willing to support someone like her. BJP circles say that getting Mamata on their side to support their candidate would be a real coup as she has emerged as the driving force of an opposition mahagathbandhan.

If Mamata crosses over, it would be a huge blow for opposition unity. Mamata took Sushma’s name in an interview aired recently on a Bengali channel. She named three BJP candidates she would readily support: L K Advani, Sumitra Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj. She repeated her words when she voiced her objection to Ram Nath Kovind, calling him an unknown. All that is history now.

And much to the disappointment of a section of the BJP, Mamata is firmly with the opposition.

Officials miffed

Resentment is mounting within the bureaucracy after former coal secretary HC Gupta and two serving IAS officers were sentenced to two years in prison in connection with the coal block allotment scam. Within the IAS, Gupta is known as one of the most honest officers.

He has an impeccable reputation for honesty.

Yet, he’s been convicted and that too, on technical grounds. No money trail has been established to prove corruption. Babus say that this kind of backlash against bureaucrats for following orders will demoralize the bureaucracy. They feel that the government should have defended Gupta more strongly.

One babu compared the mood to the anger that simmered after former telecom secretary S Behuria was imprisoned for seven months in connection with the 2G scam. There was no proof of corruption against him yet he did prison time. Behuria’s imprisonment was one of the big factors that turned the bureaucracy against UPA 2.