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The Kashmir Conundrum

For once, the BJP seems to have been caught flat footed. Mehbooba Mufti, traditional rival Omar Abdullah and Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni secretly and carefully communicated with each other. They decided to forge an unlikely alliance to stake a claim to form the government in Srinagar, to thwart the BJP’s attemp­ts to form its own government by backing local leader Sajad Lone and potential defectors from Mufti’s PDP. They had no idea that the coalition had firmed up the required numbers, till Mehbooba’s fax landed in Governor Satya Pal Malik’s tray. He ignored the letter, and frantically called BJP’s trouble shooter for Kashmir, Ram Madhav, who spoke in turn, to Amit Shah. Within minutes, Malik issued an order dissolving the assembly—on the same fax that had not worked when Mufti’s missive arrived. That the BJP was foxed by the development was obvious from Madhav’s disgraceful tweet accusing Omar and the Congress of acting on orders from Pakistan. The key players—Omar, Mehbooba and Soni—mainly used go-betweens to connect and negotiate since Mehbooba visiting Omar would not go unnoticed or, for that matter, Azad being in Srinagar.

Soni was the ideal choice as catspaw, and when the trio did need to meet, it was very late at night with no security convoys or guards to give the game away. In fact, so unthinkable was the prospect of an alliance between Omar, Mehbooba and the Congress, that the BJP had no wind of it till it was almost too late.

Strategic Timing

The media went into a tizzy after Sushma Swaraj, the Union minister for external affairs, ann­ounced that she will not be contesting the Lok Sabha polls next year due to her poor health. The announcement triggered immediate speculation on social media that Swaraj’s decision was the result of her being sidelined within the BJP since Narendra Modi and Amit Shah took total control of the party. Some even claimed that Swaraj had been feeling slighted ever since she was trolled by right-wing loonies on Twitter with the foul moniker of Visa Mata for helping a Muslim woman get a passport. However, the announcement was actually not as sudden as it seemed. Swaraj had had lengthy discussions with Modi and Shah over the past several months. The BJP veteran had apparently told them soon after her kidney transplant that her health will no longer permit her to devote time to electoral politics and that she would prefer a Rajya Sabha berth if the party wishes for her to continue in Parliament. The Modi-Shah duo had accepted Swaraj’s wish but told her to make a formal announcement “strategically”. Swaraj has been representing MP’s Vidisha constituency in the Lok Sabha since 2009. However, given her ministerial responsibilities and failing health, she has largely been an absentee in Vidisha since her re-election in 2014—a fact that has caused substantial resentment in her constituency. With the BJP facing heavy anti-incumbency in MP, Swaraj’s announcement was perhaps aimed as a justification to her voters for not being available and an assurance that they will get a new BJP candidate in 2019.

Donald and CYRIL

The NDA government was left with egg on its face following US Presi­dent Donald Trump’s rejection of its invitation to be chief guest at the Re­public Day celebrations. The government had gone public about the invitation and when Trump finally refused, it led to some panic-stricken meetings at the PMO and the ministry of external affairs to find a suitable substitute. At least four world leaders were sounded out but they all declined because of the late invitation, and knowing Trump had turned it down. Finally, a senior IFS officer at the MEA who had served in Pretoria remembered that President Cyril Ramaphosa was a great fan of Mahatma Gandhi from his student activist days with the ANC, and had often expressed a wish to spend time in India. An official invitation was sent from Prime Minister Modi, mentioning the Gandhi connection and the fact that Ramaphosa takes part in the annual Gandhi Walk in Johannesburg. The letter mentioned that he would walk where Gandhi walked. Before that, a bizarre suggestion was floated at the PMO, ostensibly to impress Modi, that this time, Republic Day could be celebrated at the foot of the Patel statue, because of its scenic surroundings and world record. Thankfully, it was quickly shot down.

Poll Vault

The Congress party has fielded all its heavyweights for the assembly polls in Rajasthan while its chief ministerial hopefuls in MP—Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia—are not even in the electoral fray. In Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot—both frontrunners for the CM’s chair—are contesting and so are veterans Girija Vyas and CP Joshi. Many believe that this is the Congress’s most aggressive pitch to return to power in any of the five poll-bound states.

However, insiders say the decision is more a mark of Gehlot’s brinkmanship. Despite emerging as an indispensable leader in Rahul’s coterie in New Delhi, Gehlot’s heart pines for the seat of power in Jaipur which he has held twice before. Pilot has been vying for the chair ever since Rahul chose him to lead the party’s state unit.

Joshi and Vyas are also CM hopefuls despite knowing that they don’t really stand a chance against Gehlot and Pilot.

Sources say that it was Gehlot’s idea that these warhorses must contest the polls. The former Rajasthan chief minister has also succeeded in cornering a lion’s share of party tickets for his loyalists; his own victory from the Sardarpura seat is a foregone conclusion. This would be Pilot’s debut in an assembly election—he has been elected to the Lok Sabha twice earlier—and is contesting from Tonk, new electoral ground for him.

For Rahul, it would be a tough call to pick the CM if the party indeed defeats Vasundhara Raje’s BJP in Rajasthan. Even if Rahul decides to anoint Pilot in the CM’s chair, Gehlot has ensured that a majority of the elected MLAs are from his faction, giving him ample room for flexing his political muscles, if and when the need arises.

Near Extinct, But Tech-Savvy

You’d think that the technology they use, like the ideology they propound, is outdated. While Communism is being increasingly rejected around the world, there’s hope still among desi comrades that the CPI(M), which just a decade ago was the power behind the Delhi throne but now is in the dumps, will bounce back. If it doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of trying. A recent communiqué that went out from a CPI(M) area committee head to all cadres read thus: “Dear Comrade, To make our social media outreach effective, it is imperative that we get our message across to as many people as possible. In this case, we reach everyone who owns a smartphone. Towards this end, all comrades are requested to save your area committee office WhatsApp number xxxxxxxxxx on your phones. Please send a message from your WhatsApp to the area committee office giving your name, address, details of your booth etc. You will then start receiving dozens of messages, photos and videos from your local committee office. As members committed to the party’s cause, you should forward these to all groups that you are associated with as also all those on your contact list and also share it on Facebook, Twitter etc. Your efforts will not go unrewarded. At the end of each month, the area committee will evaluate your performance on social media and if your name figures among the top 50 who shared/posted/forwarded the party’s messages, you will be given 2 GB free data every day for the subsequent month.” Lal Salaam.

Agricultural Shot

In what is seen as a huge embarrassment for the Modi government which has so far expressed no regrets for its ill-fated introduction of demonetisation, and does, in fact, continue to justify it as a successful step, one of its own ministries has admitted that it had a disastrous effect on the farming community across the country.

In a meeting of the standing committee of the ministry of finance, the ministry of agriculture acknowledged that due to the lack of cash, millions of farmers were unable to purchase seeds and fertilisers ahead of the rabi season when PM Modi sprang his surpise in November 2016.

The agriculture ministry has pointed out that the timing of demonetisaion was unfortunate since it came when the farmers were either selling their kharif yield or sowing rabi crops.

With demonetisation, all the cash that they had collected for buying seeds and other agricultural aids virtually turned to ash.

The ministry report says that even subsidised government seeds remained unsold.

The report says that due to the sudden cash crunch, about 1.38 lakh quintals of wheat seeds of the National Seed Corporation were left to rot.

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