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Gadkari Won’t Rally in a Hurry

Don’t get me wrong, some tough times for the Congress don’t necessarily translate into good times for the Opposition. Especially not for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This Party’s bad luck continues. Six months after the 2009 drubbing, they brought in 53-year-old ‘youth’ leader Nitin Gadkari to take on Rahul Gandhi. Mr Gadkari, a complete novice to Delhi’s devious politics, groped in the dark for months before he could put his new team together, proving yet again what is now widely known: there is just not enough new energy in the Party, or that it is going to be quite a while before he can breathe new life into it. The composition of the team also suggested that, far from being his own man, which is what everybody expected Mr Gadkari to be considering the RSS-prop he stands on, he seemed eager to please all. The definitive Gadkari-stamp was missing. Thus, the 21st April ‘Sansad Chalo’ (Storm the Parliament) against the price rise was supposed to be the big show that would launch Mr Gadkari on the political conscience of the nation. Lakhs of people were mobilised and Delhi was paralysed. But bad luck followed the BJP and Mr Gadkari even here. Firstly, the thunder was stolen by the IPL controversy with every minute of every news bulletin being hogged by it. The price rise protests suddenly seemed like they couldn’t have been timed worse. That was not all; when the price rise rally of the BJP made it to headlines, it was because the ‘youthful’ president of the Party fainted in the hot Delhi sun while the 82-year-old LK Advani was fine! Very, very embarrassing. It is difficult to say what got the BJP president more—the price rise or the rising mercury—but Mr Gadkari became the butt of jokes about his girth and the Party’s poor health. So don’t expect too many rallies from the BJP in these summer months.

One Tweet Is a Long Time in Politics
Not many weeks ago, it seemed like everything was set for the Congress juggernaut. The opposition on the Right and the Left was in a shambles and so was the state of the regional parties like Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Mulayam Singh’s SP (reduced to near-irrelevance at the national level). Even its partners in the government, such as Mamtadi’s Trinamool and Mr Karunanidhi’s DMK, were (and still are) happy to be left alone to do their state politicking. Ms Mayawati’s BSP seemed like the only real opposition left in the way of the Congress as Rahul Gandhi set about rebuilding the party in Uttar Pradesh on a massive scale, spurred by the success of smaller efforts during the last general elections. In fact, the opposition seemed in such disarray that the Congress has practically gotten away with the unprecedented price rise of the past few months without as much as a political scratch. But things can really change fast in politics. When the Budget session began, it looked like the Opposition was uniting over price-rise, for the first time. Then, Sonia Gandhi suddenly pushed so hard for the Women’s Reservation Bill that she effectively nipped the Opposition unity in the bud; the major national parties had no option but to support the Bill while the Yadav parties said ‘over our dead bodies’. If it were not for the prime minister’s pet, ill-thought-out Nuclear Civil Liabilities Bill that was sugar-coated for the US companies, Parliament would have gone into recess with Sonia having managed to throw the Opposition into disarray once again. The Bill gave the Opposition another opportunity to unite and the Congress had to beat a hasty retreat. And, just before Parliament resumed on 15th April, Shashi Tharoor’s love for Kerala, cricket and a few other things, saw the government on the mat again. Lalit Modi’s Sunday morning tweet on Sunanda Pushkar would not only give the enemy another chance to get together, but claim its first minister in UPA’s second innings.
 
Even as the government launched one of the biggest witch-hunts in recent memory to divert attention from its own minister’s shenanigans, the net widened to Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel. Then came the phone-tapping story that has the potential to create big problems for the Congress with its allies. Much as Sonia Gandhi would like the political discourse to revolve around her social agenda (Women’s Bill, Food Security Act, Right to Education, etc), just one Sunday-morning-tweet has changed the scene completely. In fact so completely that, as I write this (27th April), the government is facing the prospect of a tough day in Parliament with cut motions coming up on the Finance Bill. If the government is not sweating, it’s because Sonia Gandhi has had to use an old Congress trick to get Enemy No. 1, Ms Mayawati, to bail her out. Out of nowhere, the CBI told the Supreme Court that it had enough evidence to prosecute Ms Mayawati in the disproportionate assets case and, in a matter of days, word came from Lucknow that the BSP would bail out the government by abstaining from the vote. Of course, the friendship will be ‘limited-purpose-agreement’ only. Once the government is saved and the case buried again to be pulled out at a convenient date later, they can go back to fighting on the streets. It used to be said that one week is a long time in politics. Let’s change that, in keeping with the times, to: One tweet is a long time in politics. {break}

Ashok Chawla for CabSec?
Now that cabinet secretary, KM Chandrasekhar, is nearing the end of his term, the corridors of power are abuzz with talk of his possible successor. A decision is likely by the middle of May but indications are that the prime minister has taken a liking to finance secretary, Ashok Chawla. The PMO feels that it would help if the cabinet secretary has a finance background. In case the PM really wants Mr Chawla to replace Mr Chandrasekhar, he has a few moves to make on the chessboard of babudom. You see, Mr Chawla has four seniors in service who will have to be superseded if he has to make it to the CabSec’s post. So the gossip is that Planning Commission secretary, Sudha Pillai, will be elevated as member secretary in the Planning Commission with a three-year tenure; urban development secretary, M Ramachandran, will be given the Asian Development Bank slot; tourism secretary, Sujit Banerjee, will be accommodated in TRAI; and communications secretary, PJ Thomas, will be sent as election commissioner. That would clear the way for Ashok Chawla. But in politics and babudom, you never know when a hurdle suddenly props up.

Tailpiece: What He Said, What He Meant
It is ironical that Shashi Tharoor, who made Twitter a middle-class household name in the country and was referred to by some as ‘Minister of State for Twitter’, should have become a victim of the same 144 characters. Talk of Frankenstein! But a week after resigning, he was back to his tweets: “Looking forward to a thorough inquiry into the IPL. If my resignation leads to real reform, it will be worthwhile. Our cricket should be clean,” he said. But I think here’s what he meant: “Now that IPL has cleaned me up, let’s clean up IPL.”

BV Rao has wide experience across print, TV and digital media. He was group editor at ZEE News and senior editor with DNA and Indian Express.

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