Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel continues to be a powerhouse even in Rahul Gandhi’s Congress. It was Patel who forged a compromise between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot when a dispute arose over which of the two chief ministerial hopefuls would contest the assembly election in Rajasthan.

The dispute was threatening to hold up finalisation and release of the Congress nominations list for the state. Patel had to step in because he is the only experienced troubleshooter senior and junior Congress leaders listen to.

According to sources familiar with the development, Patel called in Gehlot and advised him that both he and Pilot should contest assembly seats for the sake of putting up a unified face in the upcoming polls. There’s been so much talk that the two are jockeying for the post of CM should the Congress win.

Patel pointed out that this kind of chatter would only demoralise workers at a time when the party stands a good chance of winning. He said the best way of putting a stop to all talk about warring factions was for both to contest to give their supporters hope for the future so that they work hard for victory. Patel was obviously persuasive, as he always is. Gehlot agreed to the formula suggested by the senior leader, that both he and Pilot would contest and the choice of CM would be left to the high command after the results are known.

Temple or development?

There’s an interesting tussle on between the RSS and BJP on how much to crank up the Ram mandir issue for the 2019 polls. The assessment of the RSS is that the mandir issue is the only winning card the BJP has to keep its core vote. The development plank has little traction in the current dismal economic environment.

The BJP, on the other hand, is unsure because it brings the government and party into direct confrontation with the Supreme Court especially after Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi postponed the hearing of the dispute till next year.

Apparently, the RSS feels that they should turn the delay into an advantage by raising the pitch for the construction of a mandir. The signal to up the ante on the mandir came from no less a person than RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and was reiterated by his deputy Bhaiyyaji Joshi a few weeks later.

However, it seems the government is concerned at the kind of statements being issued by mandir enthusiasts, some of who have gone to the extent of dubbing the apex court “anti-Hindu”.

Given the pressure from the RSS, the BJP has decided to adopt a cautious wait and watch approach. It wants to assess whether the mandir issue can really trump the negativity of rural distress, demonetisation, lack of jobs and rising social tensions.

Chiranjeevi causes angst

The Congress in Andhra Pradesh has developed a Chiranjeevi headache after it entered into an alliance with Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP in neighbouring Telengana. It seems Chiranjeevi is contemplating leaving the party because of its recent romance with Naidu.

There is a strong possibility that if the Congress-TDP alliance does well in the upcoming state polls in Telengana, the two parties could tie up for the Lok Sabha polls in Andhra Pradesh as well. The prospect is worrying Chiranjeevi who gave up a lucrative film career and joined the Congress in the hope that he would be promoted by the party as its main face in Andhra. The death of YS Rajasekhara Reddy and the subsequent expulsion of his son, Jagan, from the Congress left a vacuum at the top which Chiranjeevi has been hoping to fill.

A Congress-TDP tie-up signals the end of the road for Chiranjeevi in the Congress. Naidu’s towering presence in an alliance in which the Congress is a junior partner can only dwarf the former actor. In any case, they dislike each other intensely. This is why Chiranjeevi is believed to be scouting around for other options now.

The buzz in Andhra is that he is in talks with Jagan Reddy to join his YSR Congress. He is also talking to his brother Pawan Kalyan who has his own political outfit called Jana Sena. Interestingly, like Chiranjeevi, Kalyan is also a popular Telegu film actor.

Another effort is on simultaneously. The BJP is trying to persuade Jagan to go in for a pre-poll alliance with Jana Sena to take on the Congress-TDP in Andhra in 2019. Chiranjeevi would be a welcome addition to this grouping, feel BJP leaders in the state.

Allied services rule

The trend set by the Modi government of appointing non-IAS officers to central government posts traditionally held by the IAS continues. In the most recent round of appointments at the joint secretary level, as many as 11 of the 14 officers chosen belong to services other than IAS. Only three of them are IAS officers.

The rest belong to services like the Indian Postal Service, Indian Forest Service and various railways services. These services have traditionally been considered lower in the pecking order than the IAS. In fact, officers who join these services usually rank below those who join the IAS in the UPSC exam merit list.

The move to bring non-IAS officers into the central government in positions that were considered IAS turf began with the Modi government which actively scouted around in other services for officers who could serve at the Centre.

The numbers were fewer in the beginning but now the government seems to have turned it into a policy by bringing in more and more officers from other services.