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Fall of a Yogi

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah will officially share the blame for last week’s embarrassing loss in the Hindi heartland to the Congress but the leader who has lost the most—face, stature and star power—is UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. He was handpicked by the Modi-Shah duo, prompted by the RSS, to be the BJP’s star campaigner in the states that went to the polls, especially Madhya Pradesh, Chhattis­garh and Rajasthan, where he held a record 75 rallies, more than the prime minister and Shah combined.

The idea behind promoting Yogi was to fuel the hardcore Hindutva agenda, something that comes naturally to the rabble rousing Yogi.

At every rally, his language was coarse and divisive, invoking Ram Rajya. “Keep your Ali, Bajrang Bali is enough for us,” was one of his favourite opening lines during his hate-filled speeches. His constant focus throughout the campaign was on construction of a Ram temple, while attacking the Congress for terrorism and for supporting Pakistan. His key slogan was “Joh Ram ka nahin, woh hamare kisi kaam ka nahin (He who is not with Ram/That which is not Ram, is of no use to us).” He also spoke of changing the names of Faizabad and Allahabad to Ayodhya and Prayagraj, respectively, to uphold “Vedic traditions of India”, adding: “While taking these steps, we did not get scared like the Congress that we would lose a vote bank.”

Like Modi and Shah, he failed to see that Hindutva and the Ram temple were not issues in these elections, but agrarian distress and joblessness were. After the poll debacle, clearly, his days as Modi’s favourite chief minister and star campaigner are over.

Heads and Tails

The heads of four crucial agencies fell vacant or will fall vacant in the near future, with huge implications for India’s financial stability and its intelligence gathering capabilities. The vacancy in the RBI, prompted by Governor Urjit Patel’s sudden resignation, has been quickly filled by Shaktikanta Das, a career bureaucrat who publicly backed demonetisation as secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs and is unlikely to resist pressure from the government on certain policies, like Patel did, preferring to quit rather than give in.

The three other heads are all to do with intelligence agencies—the CBI, which is looking for a chief after its current boss and number two both fought openly like cats and are being grilled in the Supreme Court. Then there is the choice of head of India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), to replace current incumbent AK Dhasmana, who retires on December 31, as does the head of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Rajiv Jain. The buzz is that the new director of IB could be Arvind Kumar, currently special director and an expert on Kashmir with specialisation in counter-terrorism, while Dhasmana may be given an extension.

 

Money no Object

The actual wedding was on December 12 in Mumbai but even before that, doting dad Mukesh Ambani spent approximately $100 million on just the pre-wedding ceremonies for daughter Isha. The American media has been awe­struck by the money spent—singer Beyonce who charges $4 million per show was flown in from New York on a private jet along with hairdresser, make-up artist and bodyguards just for one night’s performance in Udaipur and flown back the next day. She also, reportedly, charged well over her standard rate.

Similarly, the Ambanis also flew in former presidential contender Hillary Clinton and ex-Secretary of State John Kerry by private jet.

All other guests were also flown to Udaipur on a fleet of private aircraft as were the guests who attended two other lavish pre-wedding bashes in Goa and Lake Como in Italy.

Strike Farce

The Modi government, enthused by the propaganda value of the surgical strikes carried out by the Army across the border, now wants a special force dedicated solely for this, despite warnings and misgivings by security experts. The new force, under the direction of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, will be made up of the most elite and outstanding personnel from various special forces, the Army, the Indian Navy’s Marcos (Marine Commandos), and the Garuds of the Indian Air Force, with a sprinkling from the NSG.

The problem is that the emphasis is on the best trained and most experienced in covert action, means that these forces will be denuded of their best officers and personnel and suffer a leadership vacuum. The other issue is that this special strike force will be under the command of the Army chief, rather than an overall commander. Rivalry between the Army, Navy and Air Force has so far stymied the appointment of a permanent chairman of chief of staff.

The bigger problem, of course, is that having a special surgical strike force means that the temptation to use it for political gain or propaganda value is extremely high, dangerously raising the stakes as far as the two nuc­lear-armed neighbours are concerned.

The Lucky Charm

Was it just a mere coincidence that the man deputed by the CBI to represent the agency in two high-profile extradition cases, one in Dubai, the other a week later in London, ended in rulings in the Indian government’s favour. The man is CBI Joint Director A Sai Manohar, who had flown to Dubai when the Indian embassy sent word that Christian Michel, the AgustaWestland middleman, was likely to be extradited. He flew there on a Bombardier jet which is owned by the Aviation Research Centre, another clandestine intelligence agency, and brought Michel back with him.

A few days later, he flew to London to attend the extradition trial of embattled liquor baron Vijay Mallya. He was not originally assigned to the Mallya hearings—that role went to Special Director Rakesh Asthana, who had been attending the trial in London’s magistrate court till the government divested him of powers after he and CBI Director Alok Verma engaged in an open feud. Manohar was then sent in his place, for the crucial hearing where the court ruled that Mallya would be extradited. Coincidence or lucky charm?

Pilot at Mach-1

There’s little doubt that the Congress’s Rajasthan campaign created the upturn for the party largely because of Sachin Pilot’s cockpit dexterity. What has impressed Congress bigwigs is not just that he has for the first time solidly consolidated the Gujjar vote, which can influence some 14 parliamentary seats in the 2019 elections, but also the pace of his non-stop electioneering. Of the Congress’s 600 meetings in the state, Pilot alone conducted 230 rallies. In comparison, the party’s old warhorse, Ashok Gehlot, managed 100, while all the BJP bigshots, including Yogi Adityanath and the PM, managed only 223.

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