There is intense speculation about an alliance between bitter rivals Congress and Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi for next year’s Lok Sabha polls. One formula being suggested by well-wishers including Mamata Banerjee, the main driver of the proposal, is that the Congress contest three seats and AAP fight four. The other formula being talked about is that the two parties contest three seats each and the prestigious New Delhi seat be left for a veteran politician who would stand as an Independent supported by Congress and AAP.

Two recent developments sparked off the buzz. One was the presence of AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh on the dais at Ramlila Maidan during the Bharat Bandh called by the Congress to protest rising fuel prices. Just the day before AAP had rubbished the Congress agitation and announced that it would join the Left at Jantar Mantar.

A flurry of phone calls led to a change of heart. Ghulam Nabi Azad is believed to have spoken to Sanjay Singh. There is also a report that Ahmed Patel telephoned Arvind Kejriwal. The result of all this activity was that Sanjay Singh joined the Congress protest while Atishi Marlena went to Jantar Mantar.

The other development fuelling talk about a Congress-AAP alliance for Delhi is Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken’s health problems. Apparently he has sought long leave from the party high command for treatment and rest. The leadership has kept his request in abeyance.

The buzz is that if Maken does go abroad for treatment and is out of action for some time, it will be easier for the two rivals to come together to fight the BJP in Delhi. Maken is said to be a major stumbling block to the alliance.

Congress and AAP make strange bedfellows given that Kejriwal’s rise to national fame came because of his fight against Congress corruption. But if SP and BSP can join hands in UP to fight Modi, then surely Congress and AAP can bury the hatchet in Delhi for the same cause.

Sinha, Azad for Congress?

Will BJP rebels Shatrughan Sinha and Kirti Azad fight the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as Congress candidates from Bihar? Interesting negotiations are believed to be taking place between the two BJP leaders and Lalu Yadav’s son Tejaswi.

Apparently, Tejaswi is keen to rope them in but has suggested that they contest on a Congress ticket instead of an RJD ticket. Sinha is the sitting MP from Patna, an urban seat that has been allotted to the Congress in the seat-sharing arrangement.

Azad is the sitting MP from Darbhanga which has a strong Maithil Brahmin presence. Azad belongs to this community and Tejaswi believes that he is better placed to swing upper caste votes as a Congress candidate than as an RJD nominee. In any case, Azad comes from an old Congress family. His father Bhagwat Jha Azad represented the Congress from Bhagalpur for six terms and was also chief minister of Bihar.

The Congress has not said yes yet but Tejaswi is said to exercise a lot of influence with Rahul who has left the Bihar strategy to Lalu’s son to chalk out.

Khanduri’s removal

The recent removal of BJP leader BC Khanduri as chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on defence has caused quite a flutter. Khanduri is not only a senior and well-respected leader, he is also a retired army major general. Defence is obviously a subject close to his heart.

It seems Khanduri was dropped because he ran foul of the government for the critical reports prepared by his standing committee. The most recent report, tabled in the budget session, was particularly scathing. It slammed the equipment of the defence forces, saying 68 per cent was of vintage category. And it was severely critical of the pathetic budgetary allocation for modernisation. The report pointed out that most of the money would be spent on paying salary hikes as per the seventh pay commission report.

The critical report upset the government especially since the chairman of the committee was a BJP MP. Government managers launched a whisper campaign accusing him of acting like a puppet of the opposition.

The committee was to begin reviewing the government’s procurement policy of defence equipment. With the opposition making an issue of the Rafale deal, perhaps the government thought it prudent to put in a more pliable chairman. Former minister Kalraj Misra, who knows next to nothing about defence, has taken Khanduri’s place.

Human rights on the street

Whatever the Modi government may feel about human rights, the National Human Rights Commission is quietly going about the business of raising awareness levels and sensitising the population to the importance of protecting these rights.

The latest programme is a street theatre competition to be held in the central park of Delhi’s Connaught Place. Seven street theatre groups will vie for a prize of Rs 1 lakh with plays about human rights.

NHRC has been doing seminal work since it was set up in 1993. Custodial rapes and deaths, prison reforms, interventions on behalf of tribals – these are just some of the areas in which the Commission has made a difference. A larger focus area today is to create public awareness about human rights which it is doing by sponsoring events like the one that is coming up.

The BJP has long had issues about the definition of human rights which it believes is a Western concept. Since NHRC is a statutory body, it enjoys special protection under the Constitution.