Rahul gets a minder ~ Arati R Jerath

Rahul Gandhi appears to have got a “minder” after his recent gaffes: Jairam Ramesh. The union rural development minister has ostensibly been appointed convenor of a “small group….to coordinate the various activities connected with the Lok Sabha Election, 2014”. Or so a press release from party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi announced. But those familiar with the thinking in the top echelons of the party maintain that Jairam’s real role is to coordinate Rahul’s activities and speeches to keep him safe from more verbal mishaps like the ill-advised linkage he drew between Pakistan’s ISI and the Muzzaffarnagar riot victims.
According to these sources, Rahul’s controversial Indore speech and its aftermath set alarm bells ringing in 10 Janpath. The reaction from Muslim leaders was sharp and angry even as the BJP’s prime minister candidate Narendra Modi made mincemeat of the Gandhi scion a few hours later at a rally in Jhansi. Worse, the next day, RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale, considered close to chief Mohan Bhagwat, endorsed Rahul’s comments about the ISI and Muslims. Nothing is more galling for a Congress leader than to get a pat on the back from the RSS.  Unfortunately, Rahul had unwittingly fed into RSS propaganda about the Muslim community.
Jairam has long been speechwriter for the Gandhi family. He has written for Sonia and he has done the same for Rahul on and off. Many in the Congress thought that Jairam had been pushed to the periphery of Rahul’s inner circle by the Harvard and Oxford graduates who advise the Gandhi scion. The new appointment signals that Jairam has bounced back, thanks to two successful stints as war room coordinator. He and Salman Khurshid ran the party campaign for both the 2004 and 2009 elections which put the Congress in power. Khurshid will probably stay on in government as external affairs minister. Jairam is headed back to the party. He is expected to quit his cabinet post after the November-December assembly polls are over.

Sombre Mulayam
A recent gathering of old Lohia-ites in Delhi saw Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav in a depressed mood. According to those present, Mulayam lamented that his party would get less than 15 seats in the next Lok Sabha elections. The candid admission surprised all those present because not too long ago, Mulayam had been boasting about bagging 40 – 50 seats and becoming the next Prime Minister. He conceded that the Muzzaffarnagar riots had done the SP in but defended son Akhilesh stoutly from criticism by the gathering.
Mulayam was not the only one in a gloomy mood. All the Lohia-ites present looked depressed as they discussed the rise and rise of the BJP in UP. Some went so far as to predict that the saffron party would bag 40 seats unless the Congress and BSP entered into a seat sharing arrangement. The general consensus was that a pre-poll Congress-BSP alliance was the only way to stop Narendra Modi from walking into New Delhi as PM.
Significantly, Mulayam kept quiet while all this talk went on around him. He was silent even when someone suggested a three-way alliance between the Congress, BSP and SP to stop the rise of the BJP. Looks like the wind has gone out of Mulayam’s sails.

Modi to the rescue?
It seems Narendra Modi has decided to take charge of the BJP’s floundering Delhi assembly poll campaign. A five-member crack team is on its way from Gujarat to the Capital to oversee the election. The team has been handpicked by Modi and will assume charge of everything, from manifesto, rallies and publicity to the most crucial aspect of an election – ticket distribution. Clearly, Modi intends to leave no stone unturned to win Delhi. With Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party posing an unexpected challenge to both the Congress and the BJP, the Delhi election is turning into a cliffhanger. Modi has decided to make a go of it but many in the party feel that it’s too late. The dithering on the leadership issue may have cost the BJP the election.

Nitish on backfoot
The serial blasts in Patna on the day of Narendra Modi’s hunkar rally have put Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on the backfoot. He dialed all major BJP leaders the same evening to apologise for the security lapse and promised a speedy and thorough investigation. His call list is interesting. He telephoned Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and L K Advani but did not ring Modi.
BJP circles have interpreted the move as a sign that Nitish wants to keep one foot in the NDA boat even as he prepares to sail with the Congress just in case the post-poll scenario requires a reworking of political equations. But while he’s OK with a Jaitley or a Rajnath or an Advani, Modi remains untouchable.