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RSS and BJP on the same page

Arati R Jerath |

Last month’s three-day RSS-BJP meet in Surajkund should silence those who have been speculating that all is not well between the ruling party and its mentor. Three quick decisions by the Modi government reaffirm that the two are very much on the same page and determined to stick together to combat the challenge from a united opposition in 2019.

Within days of the meet, the Modi government did three things. One was to pull out of the coalition government with the PDP in J&K. The second was to raise the MSP for the kharif crop to 1.5 times the production cost. The third was Modi’s decision to meet a delegation of sugarcane farmers at his official residence. This was a first and he assured the farmers at this meeting that he would soon announce a fair and remunerative price package for the forthcoming sugar cane crop.

Significantly, all three issues figured prominently on the RSS agenda when they met Modi for dinner during the course of the three-day discussions at Surajkund. Modi did not attend the Surajkund gathering although several senior ministers of his government and party chief Amit Shah did participate.

Instead, the PM invited the RSS leadership to his residence for dinner. The entire top brass was there, except sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat who also stayed away from the Surajkund meet.

The main item on the dinner menu was of course the next general election and how to beat back a united opposition. The three announcements by the Modi government are part of the RSS prescription to address grievances of the parivar’s core constituency.

Ground reports have convinced the RSS leadership that its core supporters are unhappy with the Modi government on various counts. The leadership believes that the BJP’s losses in recent by-polls are because its own voters stayed home to mark their protest against the BJP. The advice from the RSS to Modi and Shah was to concentrate on keeping the core constituency happy to win in 2019.

Midnight drama

The midnight drama over the denial of entry into India to British parliamentarian Lord Carlile has left the ministry of external affairs red-faced. The MP was sent back from Delhi airport on grounds that he came with an “inappropriate” visa.

The issue blew up into a storm because Lord Carlile also happens to be legal advisor to jailed former prime minister Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh. So the foreign office found itself caught between keeping present Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina happy while maintaining an even-handed relationship with her arch political rival.

It is strange that the foreign office was unaware of the purpose of Lord Carlile’s visit to India despite knowing his professional relationship with Khaleda Zia. The British MP was granted a business e-visa. It was only when he was ready to board the flight to India from Heathrow that it dawned on officials here that Lord Carlile was coming to New Delhi to address a press conference on Khaleda Zia’s behalf.

There had been news reports to this effect in Bangladeshi and Bengali newspapers for several days. But the foreign office took no notice. When it finally woke up, the prospect of Lord Carlile lobbying with Indian public opinion to drum up support for Khaleda Zia rang alarm bells in the foreign office which does not want to displease Sheikh Hasina. She is seen here as pro-India while Khaleda Zia is considered anti-India because of her party’s connections with Islamic fundamentalist organisations.

The long and short of it is that Lord Carlile was told in London itself that he would not be permitted to enter India. He came anyway, carrying a return boarding pass for the next flight back. Clearly, he wanted to whip up a controversy that would embarrass India in its efforts to walk a fine balance between the two heavyweight women leaders of Bangladesh.

Lord Carlile achieved his purpose. There was controversy. He returned to London and addressed an audio press conference with the foreign media present in large numbers. And India was left fumbling with excuses to explain the treatment meted out to a British MP who also happens to be Khaleda Zia’s legal advisor.

Only 5 for Congress?

In the hard bargaining over seats in UP between the BSP, SP, RLD and the Congress, the latter is being squeezed into accepting a status that is just a notch higher than RLD. Apparently, only five seats have been offered to the Congress to contest.

The five are the two family seats of Rae Bareli and Amethi of course, Pratapgarh, Saharanpur and Varanasi. Saharanpur is a compensation prize to Congress firebrand Imran Masood who was persuaded not to contest from Kairana in the recent Lok Sabha bye-poll so that the BJP would be defeated.

It is interesting that the regional behemoths are chary of fighting the Varanasi seat currently held by Narendra Modi. According to those familiar with the ongoing bargaining, both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav feel that an upper caste candidate of the Congress stands a better chance against Modi than an upper caste nominee from their parties.

Congress circles, on the other hand, feel that they are being fobbed off with a losing seat that neither BSP nor SP wants to contest. The Congress is pushing for ten seats. But Mayawati and Akhilesh are proving to be tough bargainers. They are not even willing to part with more than two seats for RLD despite the party’s high profile victory in Kairana recently.