The Modi government has developed an unexpected AIADMK headache. After supporting the government during the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha and helping it win with handsome numbers, the Tamil party has flipped to the other side in the Rajya Sabha.
Just as the government hoped for smooth sailing in the Upper House for vital bills, it found its numbers vanishing with AIADMK indicating that it had crossed the floor to support the opposition. Consequently, the government faced the embarrassment of not being able to pass two bills in the Rajya Sabha last week.
The two are the amended Motor Vehicles Act and the diluted Right to Information Act. The first has been sent to a select committee. The government didn’t even table the second once it realised the new political alignments. The AIADMK is the third largest party in the Rajya Sabha with 13 members.
So what changed between the no-confidence motion debate in the Lok Sabha and last week’s proceedings in the Rajya Sabha? It seems Nirmala Seetharaman’s refusal to meet AIADMK leader and Tamil Nadu deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam over the weekend soured the mood.
OPS, as the deputy CM is called, travelled to Delhi to personally thank Seetharaman for airlifting his ailing brother from Madurai to Chennai in a defence air ambulance. Seetharaman’s humanitarian gesture was supposed to have been kept under wraps. But after OPS let the cat out of the bag, it triggered a storm with DMK demanding that Seetharaman and OPS resign for “misusing” facilities meant for defence personnel.
OPS sat in Seetharaman’s ante room for a long time before he realized that the defence minister was not going to meet him. He felt particularly humiliated because he personally had worked very hard to persuade his rebellious Lok Sabha MPs to support the Modi government during the no-confidence vote. Some wanted to vote with the opposition; others wanted to walk out like the Shiv Sena and BJD. But OPS managed to bring them around.
He’s upset now because he feels that the government used him when it needed him and because it doesn’t need him any longer, it has spurned him. Of course AIADMK MPs are happy that they no longer have to be seen supporting the Modi government. Their stand in the Lok Sabha has not gone down well with their constituents back in Tamil Nadu where an anti-Modi sentiment seems to be running high.
Odd man out
BJP patriarch L K Advani seemed to be the odd man out in a room full of members of the old Lutyens’ Delhi elite at well known TV anchor Karan Thapar’s book release function. He was the only BJP leader present among top Congress leaders including Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi and prominent opposition leaders like Sitaram Yechury.
The atmosphere reeked of anti-BJPism with all the speakers taking pot shots at Modi, RSS and BJP. While Rahul had the audience in splits of laughter with his joke about BJP MPs running away from him for fear that he may hug them, the line that brought the house down came from Karan himself.
Karan faced a barrage of tough questions from his former long-time colleague Rajdeep Sardesai. He answered all with candour and wit. Among the last questions put to him was what would be his first question to Advani if he got a chance to interview the BJP patriarch today.
Pat came the answer: I would ask him would he ever wear a suit with his name embroidered on it? (Remember, this is what Narendra Modi did during US President Barack Obama’s visit in January 2015 and was panned for it.
The suit, costing several lakhs, is widely believed to have cost his party the Delhi assembly election the next month with Kejriwal’s AAP sweeping 67 of the 70 seats.) The audience cracked up with laughter at the question and applauded. Like the veteran politician that he is, Advani remained poker-faced and did not give a hint of what was going through his mind.
Trinamool Congress MPs not only have to pay obeisance to their chief Mamata Banerjee but also to her nephew Abhishek Banerjee, it seems. Although he has not been officially designated her political heir, the succession is clear to the party.
Consequently, although Abhishek’s five year old daughter’s birthday celebration happened mid-week while the monsoon session of Parliament was on, Trinamool MPs made a beeline for Kolkata by the evening flight on Wednesday. It got them to Kolkata just in time to attend the birthday gala dinner at one of the city’s top event venues. Around 2,000 people were invited for a sumptuous meal and glittering party that went on till late.
To the disappointment of the harried Trinamool MPs, their dash to Kolkata didn’t yield them full political dividends. Mamata did not show up for the dinner. She had already attended a private family celebration earlier in the day. And Abhishek was surrounded by guests and could not acknowledge the presence of many MPs.
Some of them swallowed their disappointment and took the early morning flight back to Delhi to be present in Parliament for Thursday’s proceedings. But others decided to skip Parliament and stay on in Kolkata hoping to mark their presence with both aunt and nephew.
News reports have been suggesting that Mamata plans to drop several sitting MPs for the 2019 polls and give tickets to new faces. One of the reasons for the mad one-night dash to Kolkata seems to be a bid to ensure a re-nomination next year.