Rahul Gandhi seems to be relying on divine intervention to help him win the upcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Even as the Congress campaign is floundering in these three states, Rahul is away on the annual trek to Kailash Mansarovar, believed to be the abode of Shiv and Parvati. He will be gone for a fortnight.
Rahul is entitled to a private life but Congress workers are feeling uneasy about his long absence at this crucial juncture. They are particularly worried about the slipshod manner in which the Madhya Pradesh campaign is being managed with less than three months to go for the election. The state is low hanging fruit for the Congress after 15 years of BJP rule but instead of a well oiled machinery to take on Shivraj Singh Chauhan, the party is in disarray.
After an initial burst of enthusiasm, the Congress campaign seems to have run out of steam. It’s been taken over by factionalism and rivalry between feuding aspirants for the post of chief minister. Consequently, the Congress is slowly becoming invisible even as the BJP steps up its campaigning.
Kamal Nath is not making much effort to tour the state. Jyotiraditya Scindia is hardly stirring out of his area of influence in the Gwalior region. And Digivijay Singh has more or less washed his hands of the election after being dropped from the Working Committee.
Matters have worsened with the appointment of Deepak Babaria as the general secretary in charge of MP. A lightweight Rahul loyalist from Gujarat, Babaria is unable to carry the different factions with him. He has been beaten up three times already in the past few weeks by rival groups in the Congress party, which only underlines how inadequate he is for the job that’s been entrusted to him in this crucial state.
Insiders say an old warhorse like Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has run many election campaigns for the Congress, would have served the party better in MP. At least he could have sat the three biggies – Kamal Nath, Scindia and Digivjay Singh – down and hammered out a compromise till the election.
Invite to Rahul
The brouhaha over the possibility of the RSS inviting Rahul Gandhi to its lecture series in September is rather misplaced.
More than a decade ago, in 2007, the RSS had wanted to host Sonia Gandhi. It extended an invitation to her for the birth centenary programme of its leader and ideologue M S Golwalkar.
The UPA was in power at that time and Sonia Gandhi was its chairperson. The BJP was the main opposition party.
The RSS had invited Sonia along with other political leaders, academics and eminent persons from all walks of life. Participants in the programme included then vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, RSS chief K S Sudershan and Ramjanambhoomi firebrand leader Sadhvi Rithambara. Surprisingly, Atal Behari Vajpayee was not on the list of speakers.
Sonia declined the invitation, just as Rahul is likely to refuse if the RSS calls him. The RSS is planning a lecture series called “Future of Bharat: An RSS Perspective” in September at Vigyan Bhavan.
Apart from Rahul, reports suggest that the Sangh may also invite CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
The Pakistan government has finally relented and allowed the Indian high commissioner, Ajay Bisaria, to become a member of the elite golf club in Islamabad.
It took some arm twisting and threats of reciprocal action in New Delhi to make Pakistan fall in line. Bisaria was the first Indian high commissioner in a long time to be denied membership of the club. All diplomats stationed in Islamabad are automatically granted entry for the duration of their tenure. Indian high commissioners have also enjoyed the facility in the past, even when bilateral relations were frosty.
This is why diplomatic circles could not understand why the Pakistan government decided to get petty about the matter at this juncture when relations are no worse than they have been at other times. The issue has now been resolved but pinpricks continue.
For instance, the Pakistan government has refused to give a visa for the high commissioner to bring domestic help from India. He has been allowed one help but not a second. The excuse is that the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi has only one domestic help from home. There has to be reciprocity and parity, they argue.
Bangladesh watchers here are worried at the rising tide of anti-India feeling in that country after the release of the National Register of Citizens which listed 40 lakh Bangladeshis as illegal immigrants in Assam.
There is concern here that the issue, if it escalates, could affect Sheikh Hasina’s re-election campaign. The general election is due in December and India would very much like to see Sheikh Hasina back as prime minister because of her India-friendly policies. Her government has been cooperative in tracking down militants hiding in Bangladesh and dismantling terrorist infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the NRC controversy has the potential of upsetting the apple cart. It seems fundamentalist forces are using the issue to whip up parochial and religious sentiments and are accusing India of pushing Muslims into Bangladesh by declaring them illegal immigrants. It’s also an attack on Hasina by implication as she is seen as too pro-India.
Some diplomatic watchers feel that the Modi government should have delayed the preparation of the NRC and waited for the completion of the Bangladesh election. It would have given Hasina breathing space and made re-election easier. Given that Bangladesh is the only neighbor left which is still well disposed towards India, the diplomatic gain is important.
But for the BJP, domestic compulsions are primary right now. It is focused on winning the 2019 election and NRC is an important tool to polarize votes. Hasina and Bangladesh can wait.