Fiery Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has thrown her hat into the ring to lead an anti-Modi opposition front in 2019. Consequently, Sonia Gandhi may reconsider her decision to “retire”.
Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien dropped clear hints about Mamata’s ambitions at a recent press briefing. He launched into a lengthy account of the TMC chief’s four-decade long political career, the multiple ministerial portfolios she has held in the union government, her stunning victory in the 2016 state assembly polls which gave her a second term, her leading role in opposition protests against various decisions of the Modi government like demonetisation and so on. She has the “best credentials” to take on the BJP, O’Brien summed up.
While Mamata has always claimed that she doesn’t have Prime Ministerial aspirations, those who know her say she is focusing her energies on winning friends and influencing leaders in opposition parties to gain acceptability as a leader. She has even reached out to Gujarat Patidar activist Hardik Patel who is widely credited with helping the Congress to bring down the BJP’s seat tally in the recent state elections. O’Brien was at pains to point this out to the press.
Leadership tends to be a contentious issue among opposition parties, making unity a challenging task. Now that Mamata’s ambitions are out in the open, a unified anti-Modi front may not be easy to forge. All eyes are on Sonia and Rahul. Sonia is probably the only one with the stature to put together an alliance to take on the BJP in the 2019 general election. But she may have to forgo her desire to see Rahul as PM to achieve it.
Goel earns his spurs
Vijay Goel has earned his spurs as minister of state for parliamentary affairs. He is believed to played a dynamic role behind the scenes in hammering out a compromise between the BJP and the Congress to resolve the impasse in the Rajya Sabha.
Goel’s secret weapon was his amicable relationship with Manmohan Singh. Not many know that the two get on quite well. In fact, when Goel’s daughter got married, Manmohan Singh attended the wedding. He was PM then but to the surprise of guests, spent a considerable amount of time at the reception.
When Narendra Modi suggested to Venkaiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley that they should seek a resolution to the Congress demand for an apology for questioning Manmohan Singh’s patriotism in an election speech in Gujarat, Goel swung into action at his own initiative.
Apparently, he telephoned Manmohan Singh and sought a meeting. The former PM obliged and the two met for an hour. Goel then went to Jaitley to report the gist of his meeting. It was on the basis of Goel’s report that Jaitley and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad drafted a statement to end the impasse.
Goel is believed to have met Manmohan Singh again with the final draft to seek his approval. The former PM said he would go along with the consensus decision. BJP circles are bemused at how pro-active Goel was through this crisis and ultimately proved useful in resolving it.
The BJP is satisfied that it has scored brownie points with its Hindu voters by getting the Lok Sabha to pass the triple talaq bill in just a day. But it looks like the bill will have a long wait before it becomes law.
Opposition parties are annoyed that the government bypassed the convention of sending a new bill to the requisite standing committee for discussion and review. The government ignored the standing committee route and rammed the bill through in the Lok Sabha because it wanted to send a political message to its constituency. Sending it to the standing committee would have delayed its passage.
The opposition was helpless to stop the BJP game because it doesn’t have numbers in the Lok Sabha. But it plans to flex its muscles in the Rajya Sabha when the bill comes up for discussion and passage next week.
They plan to press for a unified demand that the bill go to a select committee before it becomes law. They feel there are many flaws in the bill. One such flaw is that the police can suo moto take action if it believes that a man has divorced his wife using triple talaq. This gives enormous room for misuse and harassment.
Since the opposition has a majority in the Rajya Sabha, especially if all the parties stand together, the government may be forced to agree. Sending the bill to a select committee means that it may be a long while before triple talaq becomes a criminal offence punishable with a jail term
TN on the boil
After the handsome victory of Sasikala’s nephew T T K Dinakaran in Jayalalithaa’s constituency of R K Nagar, where a bye poll was held recently, political parties in the Tamil Nadu are bracing themselves for a mid-term assembly poll in 2018. Even the ruling AIADMK knows its time is up.
The only way of delaying the inevitable is to lengthen the hearings that are going on in the Madras High Court challenging the disqualification of 18 MLAs belonging to the Sasikala faction of the AIADMK. It seems that as long as the case remains undecided, the E K Palaniswami government may survive despite its obvious fragility.
The funny thing is that whichever way the verdict goes, the current government will fall. If the 18 MLAs are disqualified, it will mean 18 bye-elections. After the R K Nagar verdict, EKP and his ally O Panneerselvam know that their faction may not win a single seat. A resounding defeat is the first step to the fall of the government.
If the disqualification is revoked, then too the government will fall because all parties are likely to join hands to bring a winning no-confidence motion against EKP. Politics in TN is on the boil.