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Foreign Kudos for Priyanka

Priyanka Gandhi’s formal entry into national politics from the Congress party has not only made national headlines but also caught the attention of the foreign media which rarely takes any interest in India’s internal politics. Among those who played up the story with a positive spin was the powerful Washington Post of Watergate fame which stated: “A daughter of India’s most famous dynasty jumped into the pol­itical arena on Wednesday, shaking up the race to lead the world’s largest democracy ahead of elections set for later in the spring.”

The Post elaborated that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, 47, took up a key position within the Indian National Congress, the party once led by her great-grandfather and currently headed by her elder brother, Rahul Gandhi. It commented: “The Congress Party is attempting to deny Prime Minister Narendra Modi a second term, a task which seemed impossible until several months ago. But then it defeated Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in three state elections in December, suggesting the fight to govern India may be closer than expected.”

The story called Priyanka “a sharp and charismatic orator, bearing a distinct resemblance to her paternal grandmother, Indira Gandhi—India’s only female prime minister, who governed the country from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 to 1984.”

Singapore’s prestigious Straits Times even reproduced a Facebook post by Priyanka’s husband, Robert Vadra: “Congratulations P… always by your side in every phase of your life. Give it your best.” In its analysis of the advent of Priyanka, the Times wrote: “The three most important takeaways of the Congress Party’s victory in assembly elections in the heartland states of India are: (1) it has suddenly opened up the race for power in the parliamentary polls due in the first quarter of the New Year; (2) it has dramatically altered the political equation between the Cong­ress and its regional allies; and (3) most significantly, the coming of age of Rahul Gandhi, the fifth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, as a politician and the helmsman of the 133-year-old party.”

Google’s Googly             

Indian political parties will have to comply with a slew of strict regulations if they wish to run ads on Google platforms. With barely three months left for E-day, all competing parties are looking for the biggest bang for their publicity bucks. And Google, with its massive, virtually monopolistic reach, is the medium of choice.

But not so fast! The company, which is sensitive to the growing criticism of social media monopolies and search giants being misused by politicians, businessmen, and con artistes, has just announced regulatory edicts which political parties will have to follow. The company is bringing in India-specific “political advertising transparency”. It said in a blogpost: “We have updated the election ads policy for India. It requires that advertisers running election ads in India provide a pre-certificate issued by the Election Commission of India, or anyone authorized by ECI, for each ad they wish to run.” Google will verify the identity of advertisers before their election ads run on its platform.

The advertiser verification process will start on February 14, 2019. This is the second initiative of this kind by Google which recently implemented a similar strategy in the US.

A Pie in The Sky?

Having won its first ever seat in the Kerala assembly elections held in 2016, the BJP is now fancying its chances of making its Parliamentary debut from the state in the impending Lok Sabha election.

Though the party has zeroed in on about five constituencies where it believes it has a reasonable chance of winning, it is focusing on the Thiruvananthapuram constituency, currently held by former Union minister Shashi Tharoor, who is serving his second consecutive term. The reasons for the BJP’s optimism are manifold: the capital city has a cosmopolitan mix of people from all over the state and around the country; it has in the past been receptive to “outsiders”, even sending them to the Lok Sabha, as it did with VK Krishna Menon who contested and won as an independent in 1971; it has not  sent anyone for a third consecutive term to the Lower House; the city gave the party its first legislator in the assembly; and, most importantly, women voters outnumber men in the constituency.

The BJP leadership also believes that, post-Sabarimala, if not a wave there is at least a gentle breeze blowing in its favour which should stand it in good stead in the constituency, among the few in the state with an overwhelming Hindu population. It is a combination of these factors that has made the BJP sit up and take a serious look at the possibility of fielding  Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the coming election in which the Congress is certain to field Tharoor for a third time. If the BJP indeed settles on Sitharaman as its candidate, will Tharoor be third time lucky?

Mutual Admiration Society

Reeling under a slew of attacks from a near-united Opposition, the Narendra Modi government seems to be in the mood to welcome praise—any praise that comes its way—from any quarters. Even if it is from an about-to-be-married young couple from—where else?—Gujarat.

The two-page wedding invitation card they had designed was like none other. The first page carried the customary invitation listing the names of the couple and their families, the venue and timing, etc, all taking up much of the first page but it was what was at the bottom of the page and the text on the next page that literally caught everyone’s eye—even the Prime Minister’s.

“Our gift would be whatsoever you may wish to contribute towards BJP via NAMO app and your vote for Modi in 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” read the last part of the card’s opening page while the second page, exhorting one and all to “Keep Calm and Trust Namo” appears to be a primer on the truth, according to the government, about the controversial French fighter deal. “Some Facts about Rafale Deal….Even a fool will not compare prices of a simple fly away Aircraft with a weaponized Jet,” it starts and goes on to list what the BJP leaders and their apologists have been saying over the past couple of months.

It is not known if an invitation card was dispatched to Modi, but the PM nevertheless responded. “Heartiest congratulations to…. I noticed a unique feature sent on the marriage invitation sent to the guests. The ingenuity of its content reflects your abiding concern and love for the nation. This also inspires me to keep working harder for the country.” Ahem.

Stamp Of The Badshah

On January 21, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to inaugurate the 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Varanasi, a booklet was distributed among delegates who had arrived to attend the gala. The cover page of the booklet featured images of Modi, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and her deputies—VK Singh and MJ Akbar. The opening leaf of the booklet too featured these images and the designations of these leaders.

The blunder was glaring—Akbar ceased to be a minister on October 17 last year when he resigned from the post in the wake of over two dozen women journalists alleging that he had sexually harassed them when they worked with him in various newspapers during the 1990s.

As images of the booklet went viral on social media, many wondered if Akbar was making a comeback to Modi’s council of ministers and, if not, how the gaffe missed the eye of Modi who is known to micro-manage such high-profile events. No official explanation for the error was provided. Even the MEA spokesperson, who is almost as active on Twitter as Modi and Swaraj, made no comment on the many tweets that had red-flagged the issue and tagged him in the post.

Later, unofficially, journalists were informed that the booklet was printed when Akbar was still a minister—that is, prior to October 17—and was distributed “by mistake”. Some journalists were also “requested” to ensure that the faux pas wasn’t given prominence in news reports. Of course, the full-page advertisements carried by newspapers on January 22 announcing the inauguration featured images of only Modi and his Mauritius counterpart, Pravind Jugnauth, the chief guests at the event.

Accuweather

Most political hawks eagerly await two developments before every Lok Sabha poll to decipher which way the results are likely to swing. The first, and arguably most definitive, weather vane of the political winds is Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, whose Lok Janashakti Party has been a part of every ruling coalition since 1998. The second is the number of heavyweights who quit their party to join a rival camp. While Paswan has so far not played his hand despite his public rant against the decisions of the Modi government, the second indicator is likely to unfold in the days to come.

If the tittle-tattle in the power corridors of Lutyens’ Delhi is anything to go by, a sizeable chunk of BJP MPs is weighing their options of quitting the saffron fold and, in most cases, joining the Congress party.

At least half a dozen BJP MPs from Uttar Pradesh, the state that alone gave the party 71 lawmakers, are learnt to be in talks with Congress leaders. These include a senior MP who had quit the Congress in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and secured a ticket from the BJP. Similarly, some BJP MPs from Maharashtra, MP, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and even one from Gujarat have reached out to a few Congress leaders working closely with Rahul Gandhi and requested them to facilitate their entry into the Grand Old Party. Even SP and BSP leaders claim to have received word from some Dalit and backward caste MPs of the BJP who wish to jump off the Modi bandwagon.

Sources say the defections are likely to begin after the upcoming budget session in Parliament. Watch this space.

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