The recent presentation ceremony of the first PV Narasimha Rao award for national leadership and lifetime achievement was replete with ironies. Considering that the award is named after a former Congress prime minister chosen by Sonia Gandhi and was being presented to another former Congress prime minister also chosen by Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, the absence of the Gandhi family at the function was notable.

It wasn’t only the Gandhi family that was missing. Not a single Congress leader turned up. Yet minutes before the function, both Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul Gandhi were with Manmohan Singh at the opposition leaders’ meeting in Parliament House. There was another irony. The award was handed to Manmohan Singh by a former Congressman, ex-President Pranab Mukherjee. It is indeed unfortunate that despite the weighty Congress branding of the main figures, the party chose to boycott the ceremony.

The reason is not hard to understand. Narasimha Rao is a figure from the past that the present day Congress leadership would prefer to forget. Relations between him and Sonia Gandhi had deteriorated to such an extent during his last months as prime minister that when he passed away, the Congress headquarters shut its gates to his cortege and wouldn’t allow his body to be placed there for final tributes.

Pranab Mukherjee too has a nebulous relationship with his old party after his visit to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur and his acknowledgement of the organisation’s founder, K B Hegdewar, as a “great son of Mother India”. The visit and the tribute in the visitor’s book upset many in the Congress. The only one who continues to enjoy a cordial relationship with the family and is respected by both mother and son is Manmohan Singh. But even he couldn’t bridge the chasm between his party and two heavyweight leaders whose contributions will be remembered by history.

Change in agenda

The capture of Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman by Pakistani soldiers forced the opposition to change the agenda of its meeting on February 27. Although the Congress had prepared and circulated a draft common minimum programme that was to be discussed at the meeting, the document was junked. All the leaders carried the paper with them but it remained untouched. In fact, Sonia Gandhi chaired the meeting and set the tone by appealing to the opposition to put politics aside in view of the grave crisis facing the country. While everyone broadly agreed, feisty Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who is always spoiling for a fight with the BJP, felt that the Modi government should not be let off so easily. For instance, she wanted a paragraph to be included in the resolution to be passed at the meeting. The paragraph she wanted contained a warning that an opposition government, if voted to power, would order a judicial inquiry into the intelligence and security failures that resulted in the Pulwama attack. Her proposal was shot down by both Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar who advised that this was the time for the Indian political establishment to close ranks against Pakistan. There would be enough time later to demand answers from the government on the lapses at Pulwama, they said. The meeting lasted nearly three hours and may have gone on longer but for Manmohan Singh. He had to leave to receive the P V Narasimha Rao award from Pranab Mukherjee.

SP skips Opposition meeting

Leaders of 21 opposition parties attended the February 27 meeting at Parliament House. The gathering included BSP representative Satish Mishra. But there were two notable absentees. One was a representative of Ajit Singh’s RLD and the other was a leader from Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. The RLD gave prior intimation saying its leaders Ajit Singh and Jayant Chaudhry were otherwise engaged. But there was radio silence from SP which is usually represented by Akhilesh’s uncle Ram Gopal Yadav at such meetings. There is considerable speculation about SP’s absence, especially because BSP leader Mayawati sent Mishra.

Mayawati likes to stay aloof and has recently been hostile to any formation that includes the Congress. Some feel that SP is in doldrums again because of the family war. It is almost a repetition of what happened on the eve of the 2017 UP assembly polls when Mulayam Singh played cat and mouse with Akhilesh and eroded his authority on several occasions. Now, on the eve of the Lok Sabha election, Mulayam seems to be at war with his son again. First, he sent shock waves across the political spectrum when he told Parliament on its final day that he wants Narendra Modi back as prime minister. Then, more recently, he ticked Akhilesh off in public for sealing an alliance with Mayawati. He said he would never have done it himself. All is not well in the Yadav parivar and internal feuds seem to be impacting the show of opposition unity.

Sudhanshu Mittal on comeback trail?

Sudhanshu Mittal of the BJP scored a major coup with the presence of influential RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale at a function to mark the release of his book “RSS: Building India Through Seva”. BJP circles see it as a coup because Hosabale is considered close to Narendra Modi and his presence would seem to convey that Mittal has the Prime Minister’s blessings. Mittal has been out in the cold after a clash with Arun Jaitley some years ago. But he appears to have wormed his way back in favour. Not only did Hosabale attend the book release function, union minister Smriti Irani was present too. It’s well known that Irani is also close to Modi. Many in the BJP feel that with two Modi heavyweights releasing his book, Mittal may be on his way to bigger things in the party. He could, for example, be given a ticket to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha election. Speculation is rife that he is being considered for the Meerut seat.