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UP RS seat for Jaitley?

Arati R Jerath |

With 58 Rajya Sabha seats falling vacant in April, it’s the season for speculation on which retiring MP will get re-elected and which one will be dropped. BJP circles are buzzing the loudest about Arun Jaitley who is one of several union ministers whose RS term is drawing to an end.

As a crucial member of Modi’s cabinet and core team and as Leader of the Upper House, Jaitley is bound to be back in the Rajya Sabha. But from which state?

The question has arisen because he is among the four retiring MPs elected from Gujarat. After the assembly polls, the BJP’s strength has plummeted so drastically that it can only send two persons from Modi’s home state to the Upper House. This means that two will either have to be dropped or shifted to another state for re-election.

Apart from Jaitley, there are two other union ministers from Gujarat who are set to retire. They are minister of state for agriculture Parshottam Rupala and minister of state for chemicals Mansukh Mandaviya. The fourth is a low profile person, Shanker Vegad.

Now Rupala is a Modi loyalist. At one point, he was being considered as a replacement for Anandiben Patel when she stepped down as Gujarat chief minister in the summer of 2016.

His case for a re-nomination is further buttressed by his caste. He is a Patidar and after the way the community deserted the BJP in the last assembly elections to almost defeat it, the party is wary of upsetting the Patidars further.

It so happens that Mandaviya is a Patidar too. Will his caste be a passport to the Rajya Sabha as well?

If so, what happens to Jaitley? Modi’s high profile finance minister and right hand man has been representing Gujarat in the Rajya Sabha for three terms now. He has invested heavily in the state, spending his MPLADs funds generously on development projects.

Will he have to leave the state this time because of the BJP’s caste compulsions? Fortunately, the BJP will reap a bumper harvest from Uttar Pradesh where it won 325 seats in last year’s assembly polls.

The party can sweep up at least eight seats from here and many feel that there aren’t enough suitable candidates within the ranks to nominate to the Upper House.

Is Jaitley headed then for UP? We’ll know soon enough when the nominations begin. Elections will be held on March 23.

Banner games

An interesting BJP banner was seen in the Capital around Holi. The banner featured three persons prominently: Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Modi’s bête noir and RSS leader Sanjay Joshi. The pictures of all three were the same size and below, the message wished Delhi residents a happy Holi.

Those who know the history of bitter rivalry between Modi and Joshi are shocked that their photos had been placed on the same banner, next to each other. It seems to be the handiwork of a Joshi loyalist who is clearly trying to promote the RSS leader sidelined because of Modi.

Interestingly, although Joshi has been forced to keep a low profile so as not to anger Modi, the once powerful RSS leader keeps himself busy. Very busy, in fact. Ensconced in a friend’s MP flat on North Avenue, Joshi spends his days meeting people and travelling.

He remains popular with RSS workers as was evident on his birthday a few weeks ago. Several hundred people landed up at his flat to wish him. There was a mini celebration of sorts in the park opposite the flat where Joshi even addressed his well wishers.

Will Kishore return?

Does anyone remember Prashant Kishore, once a rising election strategist, much in demand after he helped script Modi’s famous Lok Sabha victory in 2014?

He fell out with Modi and Amit Shah soon after the elections and surfaced some months later as Nitish Kumar’s strategist for the 2015 Bihar assembly polls.

The sweeping victory of the Nitish-Lalu-Congress mahagathbandhan in those elections, marked Kishore as a rising star in the management of elections US-style. Unfortunately, he came a cropper when he steered the Akhilesh-Rahul combine to a disastrous defeat in UP in 2017.

Since then, he seems to have dropped out of sight. There was a report that suggested he was helping Jaganmohan Reddy plot a comeback in Andhra Pradesh which goes to polls in 2019. But Kishore has been keeping a low profile for the past one year.

Now, there are reports that he is trying to make his way back to the BJP for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. One BJP source claimed that he even managed to wangle a meeting with Modi but there is no confirmation of this. Can Kishore do another flip?

Cabinet Secretary

Speculation has begun about the next cabinet secretary. Incumbent Pradeep Kumar Sinha’s term ends in June this year. He has already done three years in the job – two years fixed tenure and a year’s extension.

Bureaucratic circles speculate that he is unlikely to get another extension and will go the same route as former foreign secretary Jaishankar. The foreign secretary bowed out in January this year after a two year fixed tenure plus a one year extension. This happened despite Jaishankar’s reputation as one of Modi’s favourite bureaucrats.

So if Sinha retires in June, who will take his place? Seniority demands that the present petroleum secretary Kapil Dev Tripathi be appointed. He belongs to the 1980 batch.

But word is out that the government may well spring a surprise. The name of finance secretary Hansmukh Adhia is doing the rounds. He is a 1981 batch officer of the Gujarat cadre and is known to be trusted by both Modi and Amit Shah.

Tripathi retires on 30 June 2018. The government may well wait till Tripathi superannuates before appointing the man it wants as head of the civil service.