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THE RUMBLINGS WITHIN

BJP President Amit Shah recently overhauled the party organisation and constituted several committees for different tasks related to the Lok Sabha polls due in April-May while also appointing new in-charges for states. The exercise shows a curious tug-of-war between the Modi-Shah duo and the RSS leadership in Nagpur.

Veterans Sushma Swaraj , Nitin Gadkari and Uma Bharti—all with strong Sangh ties—have been kept out of the party’s election manifesto panel, headed by Rajnath Singh, and the publicity committee, headed by Arun Jaitley. Gadkari, who has been in the news for taking pot shots at the government on prickly issues like unemployment, has instead been given the unspectacular task of reaching out to NGOs and social organisations while Swaraj, who recently opted out of electoral politics, has been entrusted with the boring task of preparing poll literature.

Smriti Irani—the garrulous Union minister most known for flaunting her ties with Modi—has been kept out of all crucial panels. Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, Union Rural Development Minister Narendra Tomar and Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram have all been kept away from crucial panels at a time when farmer and rural distress has cost the BJP dearly in recent assembly polls.

Interestingly, though, second-rung leaders who aren’t acolytes of the Modi-Shah duo but enjoy the confidence of the Sangh have been assigned key tasks in different states.

CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS, REALLY?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ribbon-cutting peregrinations are cutting a daily swathe across land and air. Ordinary mortals wonder how he manages to find time to do the job he was entrusted with—running the government. One day it is the world’s tallest statue in his home state, another sees him off to the other end of the country to open Asia’s longest rail-cum-road bridge across the mighty Brahmaputra.

This coming week will see him in Kollam, Kerala, for the inauguration of a bypass that will cut travel time on the national highway from Thiruvananthapuram to Alleppey by approximately 30 minutes.

Modi’s name is seldom attached to matters so modest and mundane as a 10-km bypass, but there is a reason. The last time he went to Kollam was just before the 2016 assembly elections when a firecracker tragedy at a temple near the city led to the death of scores of people. The elections a month later saw the BJP winning its first ever seat in the state assembly. With the general election around the corner, Modi’s sojourn to the bypass, his spin doctors hope, will give the party a new toe-hold in the state which usually regards the BJP as an illegal alien.

SLIDING POCKET BOROUGH

The recent assembly poll results in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan proved that the cloak of invincibility has slipped off Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his doppelganger, BJP President Amit Shah. Now, the passage of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill has given NDA constituents from India’s North east reason to derail the Modi-Shah duo’s Mission 21 (winning 21 of the region’s 25 Lok Sabha seats).

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has already quit its alliance with the BJP, turning the saffron party’s dream of sweeping Assam in the general election, due in April-May, into a mirage. Discordant notes are now being struck by the BJP’s other regional allies—the Mizo National Front in Mizoram, the National People’s Party in Meghalaya, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura and the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) in Nagaland. The NDPP is also upset over the centre’s delay in signing the Naga Accord.

The turmoil in the BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance has given the Congress party an obvious reason to hope for regaining control of its decades-old bastion that was steadily eroded by the saffron tsunami since 2014. The Congress’s central leadership has already instructed former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to put his rivalry with AGP boss Prafulla Mahanta behind and also reach out to other NDA allies in the North east. Gogoi has welcomed the AGP’s decision to snap ties with the BJP and appealed for an alliance to defeat the BJP. Next, Gogoi could reach out to the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief Badruddin Ajmal for a pre-poll alliance in Assam, an idea the former chief minister has been known to bitterly resent in the past.

DEFENCE DILEMMA

South Block mandarins are privately sounding alarms that India’s defence preparedness, already a matter of grave concern for military and geopolitical strategists, could plunge further if politics and scandals continue to bedevil the modernisation and acquisition process. Under pressure of accusations of graft and influence peddling by the middle man-politician nexus for several decades, the latest being the AgustaWestland chopper deal and the Rafale MMRCA combat fighter contract deal for 36 aircraft for the Indian Air Force, the scenario looks bleak.

Says a summary provided by a prominent security analysis think tank: “Abused by foreign vendors who violate contracts and get away with non fulfilment of offset obligations and exploited by indigenous crony capitalists India’s Defence Acquisition System seems to be in a continuous negative spiral of indecision, project delays, cost over-runs and funding challenges….”

INSCRUTABLE NEIGHBOUR

India’s foreign ministry officials are scratching their heads trying to figure out China’s latest advice to the US on its Afghanistan policy. China has gone on record stating that President Trump should not abruptly withdraw 14,000-odd US troops from Afghanistan. This is strange. In view of the traditional US-China competition for global spheres of influence and innate mutual distrust, notwithstanding growing economic ties, the dragon should be dancing with joy at the prospect of Uncle Sam vacating a neighbouring, strategic area.

“They [US] have been in Afghanistan for 17 years. If they are leaving the country, they should try to leave in a gradual and a responsible way,” said Lijian Zhao, deputy Chinese ambassador in Islamabad. Lijan told Pakistan’s GTV News that the Taliban and the Afghan government need to negotiate a political solution to the 40-year-old war.

According to Indian diplomats in the know, the main reason seems to be the US’s increasing reliance on India as a strategic partner to play a larger role in the Afghanistan peace process. A sudden withdrawal of the US would create a vacuum that would increase India’s already strong leverage in Afghanistan, while a protracted negotiating process with the US still present would give China the time and space to join the parleys and increase its influence in that region with the help of its main ally, Pakistan.

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