It’s a strange reversal of roles. Narendra Modi did not campaign for Nitin Gadkari in Nagpur but invited his union transport minister and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s blue-eyed boy to join his campaign in Varanasi.
Political circles were surprised to see Gadkari accompany Modi on his road show through the temple city from which the PM is seeking re-election. They were surprised because Modi did not address even one rally or poll meeting for Gadkari whose constituency voted in the first phase of the ongoing election.
The buzz in the BJP is that Gadkari did not want Modi in Nagpur. He is confident of winning on the strength of his own popularity and work. No need for props.
For that matter, he did not invite Amit Shah either. It seems Shah forced himself on Gadkari and insisted on addressing one meeting.
The shadow power play between Modi and Gadkari is the subject of much speculation within the BJP because of the 180-seat theory that is doing the rounds. According to this theory, if the BJP’s seat tally falls below 200 to say 180, then the RSS may push for Gadkari to head a coalition government. It is felt that Gadkari is a better coalition man than Modi because of his easygoing personality.
BJP circles say that Modi wanted Gadkari by his side in Varanasi to send a signal to his party that he is very much the numero uno despite the chatter around Gadkari.
Under Dimple’s wing
Akhilesh Yadav’s wife Dimple is keeping a close watch on star wife Poonam Sinha who is the gathbandhan’s nominee for the Lucknow seat. Poonam, wife of Shatrughan Sinha, insists that she is no stranger to politics, having campaigned for her husband twice in Patna Sahib.
But she is a stranger to Lucknow from where she is contesting for the first time. Dimple has taken Poonam under her wing and assigned senior party leaders to guide the star wife through the city’s intricate political maze. It seems Dimple is in regular contact with these leaders to ensure that they are taking Poonam to the right places, introducing her to opinion makers and arranging media publicity for her.
Although she is a novice, Poonam seems to be adapting to her new role gracefully. An SP leader on her watch said that she is quite a hit with the Sindhi community in Lucknow.
Poonam herself is a Sindhi. Her nomination came as a surprise to Lucknow’s political circles. But Poonam said that she has always wanted to contest a Lok Sabha election. She said she and Shatrughan have been in touch with Akhilesh since December for an opening in UP.
A notable absentee from the BJP’s campaign in UP is former party state president and current deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. According to a BJP source, he has not been provided with either a helicopter or a plane because he is not in the list of star campaigners.
Consequently, Maurya is sitting at home in a deep sulk and hardly moving out of Lucknow. His absence from the campaign trail is worrying sections of the party which fear that the critical Maurya vote may shift to the opposition camp because of the perceived humiliation of the deputy chief minister.
The vote is important in the upcoming phases where the Maurya community is influential in certain pockets of east UP.
Diplomacy under strain
India’s relations with its neighbours have become a poll issue for the first time. While Pakistan is bearing the brunt of the BJP’s vitriol in the ongoing campaign, Bangladesh too has been dragged in because of actor Ferdous Ahmed.
The actor campaigned for Trinamool Congress candidates in two constituencies along the India-Bangladesh border, leading to an uproar. It embarrassed the Bangladesh government which quietly sent word to the actor to apologise and return home.
Ahmed duly said sorry and flew back to Dhaka. But that didn’t satisfy the Indian government. The home ministry cancelled Ahmed’s multi-entry business visa which was valid till 2022.
The cancellation is believed to have upset the Bangladesh authorities who see it as a hostile act. They feel that India should have shown more grace and let the matter die down after Ahmed apologized and flew back.
It seems Bangladesh is mulling the option of sending a strong protest letter to the Indian government on the issue, worrying foreign policy mandarins who are aware that Bangladesh is one of two neighbours with whom India enjoys a cordial relationship.
Congress candidate from Saharanpur Imran Masood may prove to be one of the biggest casualties of the SP-BSPRLD gathbandhan in UP. Masood was regarded as a strong contestant and Saharanpur was one of the seats the Congress was hoping to win because of his good showing in 2014. Masood stood second in that election, losing to the BJP candidate by around 50,000 votes.
But the sharp polarization along caste and community lines in western UP because of the gathbandhan has squeezed Masood out of the contest. Even buddy Chandrashekhar Azad, the rising Dalit star of western UP, did not campaign for him because of pressure from his Jatav community to strengthen the gathbandhan instead of splitting votes.
The buzz in UP is that Masood may well end up a poor third this time. He’ll be lucky if he saves his deposit, they say.