The Congress is hunting for a state from which former prime minister Manmohan Singh can be reelected to the Rajya Sabha. Manmohan Singh is currently a RS MP from Assam. His term ends in April 2019.
The former PM has represented Assam for five consecutive terms. His election has never been a problem because the Congress has ruled the state for most of those 25 years and even when it was not in power, it had enough seats to send an MP to the Rajya Sabha.
But after its stunning loss in the 2016 state polls, the Congress cannot get an MP elected from Assam. Hence the hunt for another state for Manmohan Singh. It’s a tough one because the Congress has been swept out of power from almost every state over four and a half years of Modi rule at the centre.
It seems the Congress has turned to the DMK in desperation to help out. Six seats are falling vacant from Tamil Nadu in April next year and the Congress has asked M K Stalin to spare one for the former PM. One of the retiring MPs is Stalin’s half-sister, Kanimozhi. She apparently intends to contest the Lok Sabha election from Tuticorin. The Congress has suggested that her Rajya Sabha berth be given to Manmohan Singh.
Stalin is mulling over the proposal. But he will strike a hard bargain with the Congress for the favour. He is willing for an alliance with the Congress for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but he doesn’t want the Congress to contest more than five seats from Tamil Nadu. The Congress is demanding more.
So, how important is Manmohan Singh to the Congress? We will know next year from the political cost the party is willing to pay to accommodate the former PM. If it wants him back in the Rajya Sabha from Tamil Nadu, it may have no option but to sacrifice its political interests in the state and agree to a smaller share of Lok Sabha seats.
Sonowal up in arms
Assam chief minister Sarbanand Sonowal is proving to be a tough nut to crack. He has put the BJP and the Modi government in a spot with his adamant opposition to the Citizenship Amendment bill.
The bill seeks to give citizenship to “persecuted” Hindus from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But in Assam, there is a huge feeling against allowing more Bangladeshis into the state, whether they are Hindus or Muslims. It’s part of the anti-Bengali sentiment that swept Assam in the 1980s and led to an upsurge of violence against Bengalis settled in the state, irrespective of their religion.
Sonowal’s opposition is based on feedback from the ground and he is believed to have threatened to resign if the Centre goes ahead with the bill. A special plane was sent to Guwahati to ferry him for a closed-doors meeting with Rajnath Singh last week.
The meeting began early in the evening and carried on till well past midnight. Assamese journalists got tired waiting for Sonowal to emerge and they went home. The next morning, they were told that the CM had flown back home and the meeting was inconclusive.
Sonowal held his ground and told Singh that he would be left with no option but to quit otherwise he would be seen as betraying his people.
Opposition to bill
Apart from internal opposition from its Assam leaders, the Modi government is also facing heat from other parties on the Citizenship Amendment bill. At a recent meeting of the parliamentary committee that is studying the bill, the discussions were so stormy and heated that BJP MPs on the committee were silenced.
Although the BJP is in majority on the committee, they had no answers to the questions and objections that opposition party MPs raised. The furious discussion lasted more than two hours and at the end of it, the BJP seemed to be on the back foot. It looks like the government may be losing the appetite to push ahead with the controversial proposal.
Interestingly, four senior government officials had been invited to attend the meeting to give their inputs. These were the secretaries from the ministry of external affairs, home, law and justice.
But they remained mum because they didn’t get a chance to speak as the MPs argued furiously among themselves.
Peeved with Sonia
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is sulking. She is sulking because Sonia Gandhi has accepted the DMK’s invitation to attend a function at which party patriarch M Karunanidhi’s statue will be unveiled but the Congress matriarch has not indicated whether she will accept Mamata’s invitation to a unity rally in Kolkata next month.
The statue of the late DMK chief will be unveiled at the party headquarters on December 16. Sonia Gandhi has agreed to attend. The function is expected to be a show of strength by the united opposition with all major opposition party leaders likely to attend.
Mamata is planning a similar show of strength in Kolkata on January 19. While most opposition leaders have agreed to be present, there is no word from either Sonia or Rahul Gandhi.
Annoyed by this, Mamata is thinking of giving the DMK function a miss. Of course, her absence will only trigger speculation about a rift in the opposition but Mamata is so miffed that she couldn’t care less.