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Angry Gujral speaks his mind

Arati R Jerath |

The BJP may be preening about its victories over the Opposition in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in the monsoon session. But its own ally rained on its parade the other day with a sharp rebuke.

Speaking at a book release function at Teen Murti auditorium last week, Akali Dal leader and Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Gujral painted a gloomy scenario for the BJP in the 2019 polls. His prediction for the saffron party was a loss of around 120 Lok Sabha seats. He said he expects the BJP to get roughly 160 seats.

Gujral was scathing about the manner in which the BJP has been treating its allies over the past four years. He said that the party would have to change its attitude because it will need the support of 100-120 MPs from other parties to form the next government.

BJP circles were quick to dismiss Gujral’s comments as a case of sour grapes. They said he was upset because Harivansh Singh of the JD(U) was nominated for the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson instead of him.

The truth is that Gujral has been making dismal predictions for the BJP in 2019 for many months now. He feels that the party simply cannot repeat its spectacular 2014 performance in key states like UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra etc. He also candidly admits that people are disappointed because of unfulfilled promises and worried about the rise of the fringe through increasing incidents of mob lynching etc.

It is surprising that an ally should speak so frankly from a public platform like a book release function where he was one of the panelists. But then Gujral has never been one to mince his words.

Here’s a somber thought for the BJP. Gujral’s predictions have proved correct in every election since 1996.

Furious AAP

AAP has been boiling with anger at the Congress ever since the Jantar Mantar rally to protest against the Muzzaffarpur shelter home rape cases. It seems Rahul Gandhi refused to join the rally till Arvind Kejriwal left the venue.

Congress leaders told the organizers that Rahul would come only after Kejriwal departed. The Delhi chief minister was informed of this and politely requested to cut short his time at the rally to enable Rahul’s arrival.

A fuming Kejriwal obliged but the churlish demand from the Congress rankled. AAP hit back when the opportunity came. It refused to support the Congress candidate in the election of the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson. It decided to abstain. AAP has three MPs in the Rajya Sabha.

Mind you, frantic efforts were made by interlocutors to get Rahul to telephone Kejriwal but the call never went. Apparently, Kejriwal waited till 1 am hoping that Rahul would see the light and relent.

The bitter rivalry between AAP and Congress is worrying other opposition leaders. Although AAP is relevant only in Delhi, there are seven Lok Sabha seats to consider. If the opposition vote is split between AAP and the Congress, the BJP could well sweep all the seven seats in the Capital.

Rahul is under pressure from Kejriwal’s friends in the Opposition to reconsider his animosity to AAP but currently, the will of the party’s Delhi chief Ajay Maken’s prevails. Maken sees red at the mention of Kejriwal and is blocking any move for an electoral understanding in Delhi for the 2019 polls.

Pawar’s outreach

While the Congress dithered, master politician Sharad Pawar took less than an hour to figure out that the opposition didn’t have the numbers to make its candidate win the election for the post of Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson.

Pawar, who has friends across the political spectrum and can talk to anyone including a political rival, simply picked up the phone and dialed BJD’s Navin Patnaik to ask which side he was on. Patnaik told him that he had decided to vote with for the NDA nominee.

Similarly, a phone call went to Shiv Sena boss Uddhav Thackeray to check out his views. Thackeray said he was going with the NDA. In fact, the Sena chief sent son Aditya to Delhi on the morning of the election to make sure that party MPs obeyed instructions.

Once Pawar realized the law of the land, he refused to allow his MP Vandana Chavan to be sacrificed in a losing election.

Curiously, no other leader in the opposition was able to check which way the wind was blowing. Patnaik refused to entertain calls from anyone in the opposition. Pawar was the only leader he was ready to speak to.

So Congress and other opposition MPs in the Rajya Sabha just assumed that BJD would abstain. Similarly, they were taken in by the angry rhetoric of Sena MPs who threatened to vote against the BJP’s pick. But no opposition leader could actually pick up the phone and dial Thackeray, except Pawar.

Pawar’s formidable network across party lines is hard to beat. Yet, the Congress has been unable to make use of it to reach out when required. Clearly, Rahul Gandhi has a long way to go before he can even think of leading an opposition front.

Jaipal a draw

Former union minister Jaipal Reddy’s drawing power has not diminished even though he is now virtually retired from active politics. He was in Delhi last week to release his book “Ten Ideologies’’.

The hall at the Constitution Club was overflowing with Reddy’s friends and well wishers. Although he is now a member of the Congress, the gathering was more reminiscent of his days in the Janata Dal as the hall was packed with former Socialists.

Only a handful of prominent Congress leaders turned up although the book was released by former prime minister Manmohan Singh. But there were lots of Third Front leaders and supporters including Sharad Yadav, Sitaram Yechury and Deve Gowda.

Old Janata Dal hands had travelled from places like Lucknow just to be present on Reddy’s big day. The size of the audience was truly a tribute to Reddy’s durable popularity.