Informing the PM
On February 27, as a worried India was coming to terms with news of escalation of tension with Pakistan and the possibility of another war between the countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was busy addressing the National Youth Parliament at Vigyan Bhavan.
While Modi was engrossed in his favourite pastime of publicly bashing his opponents and predecessors, news had begun trickling in that Pakistan had shot down and captured one of India’s MiG fighter pilots, later identified as braveheart Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. As reports of the pilot’s capture went viral, Indian officials in the external affairs and defence ministries refused to confirm or deny the development while Modi carried on with some of his hottest political rhetoric at Vigyan Bhavan.
Suddenly, an official walked up to Modi and handed him a chit. A visibly shaken Modi took three more questions from the audience before turning down the compere’s request to address the gathering again. He then left Vigyan Bhavan. A short while later, India confirmed the news of Varthaman being taken captive. No points for guessing what the chit said.
Is that you, Mush?
At the height of the India-Pakistan war-like brinkmanship after the Pulwama suicide bombing and the air strikes which followed, Indian TV anchors were baying for blood and revenge as never seen before. While saner voices, in the minority, were calling for calibration and de-escalation, an important voice which most people missed was that of General Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani dictator who is known as the architect of the Kargil war in which his country’s nose was bloodied by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
Musharraf, declared a fugitive in the Benazir Bhutto murder case, is now living in exile in Dubai but still hoping to make a comeback. At a recent press conference, his first public appearance in many years, he ruled out the use of nuclear weapons in case of any renewed armed conflict between India and Pakistan.
“It is ridiculous even to say that there will be use of atom bomb in case of any war between the nuclear neighbours. If Pakistan uses one bomb, India will use 20 bombs so Pakistan may have to use 50—this is disastrous. People who are talking about such possibilities have no idea of warfare,” he said in reply to a question. He stressed that nuclear weapons at best are a deterrent and should not be used by anyone. Musharraf, the founder of the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), addressed the press in the presence of senior party members, newly elected APML Chairman Hidayatullah Kheshgi and Secretary General Mehreen Malik.
US Red Alert From Delhi
After Indian civil aviation authorities closed eight airports—Jammu, Srinagar, Pathankot, Leh, Amritsar, Shimla, Gaggal, and Bhuntar—on February 27, owing to the Indo-Pakistani air battles, the US embassy in Delhi began advising all its citizens residing in India to exercise great caution.
The embassy said that travel to areas within 10 kilometres of the border between India and Pakistan should be avoided. The only official India-Pakistan border crossing point for persons who are not citizens of India or Pakistan is in Punjab between Attari, India, and Wagah, Pakistan. “You are strongly advised to confirm the current status of the border crossing prior to commencing travel,” an official circular said. “The Department of State reminds all US citizens in the India-Pakistan border region to comply with Indian government directions, exercise caution, maintain a low profile, avoid all demonstrations and monitor local media for security updates. The State Department further wishes to remind US citizens of its strong recommendation that you avoid travel to Jammu & Kashmir (with the exception of visits to the eastern Ladakh region and its capital, Leh) because of the potential for terrorist incidents, as well as violent public unrest.”
If Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is the brahmastra of the Congress party for taking on Narendra Modi then her husband, the prodigal Robert Vadra, is perhaps the most potent weapon in the BJP’s armoury to launch a counter-offensive.
Within Congress circles, there has always been an accepted belief that the Nehru-Gandhi family sees Vadra as the soft target that the BJP can bank on to launch its anti-Priyanka diatribe, whenever she becomes a political threat. What has, however, continued to surprise the Congress ranks is why Vadra never misses a chance to play into the BJP’s hand.
Already facing various investigations by the CBI and ED over his allegedly shady land deals and questionable business ventures, Vadra obviously knows he is the weakest link in the Congress first family. But this hasn’t stopped him from making off-the-cuff remarks indicating his willingness to join active politics.
In 2012, while Priyanka was desperately campaigning for the party in Rae Bareli and Amethi during the UP assembly polls, Vadra decided to carry out a bike rally across the family pocket boroughs, embarrassing his wife. The rally was abruptly aborted, reportedly on Priyanka’s instructions. Now, with Priyanka taking a plunge into active politics, Vadra has again hinted at joining politics and posters have come up across his hometown of Moradabad, exhorting him to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha polls from there.
Following Vadra’s latest utterances, the party’s leadership and spokespersons have been told to brusquely dismiss any queries from journalists about the possibility of Vadra getting a Congress ticket.
Maharaja Stumps Cricketer
That there has been a simmering rivalry between Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his much-junior but popular cabinet colleague, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, has been widely known ever since the latter walked away with kudos over the Kartarpur Corridor. Those close to Singh say the veteran of Punjab’s power politics had been waiting for a chance to gain the upper hand from Sidhu. And the chance came recently, in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack.
The Maharaja of Patiala, who is also a former Armyman, earned applause from across party lines for his rivetting speech in support of the Indian Armed Forces and call for strikes against Pakistan. Singh backed this up with an interview to Barkha Dutt in which he unambiguously said that he was an Armyman first and a politician later, while delicately putting down Sidhu for being a sportsman-politician.
The praise for Singh coincided with an uproar in the Punjab Assembly by the Akalis demanding Sidhu’s resignation for his pitch for peace talks with Pakistan. Sidhu’s clarification later that he stood firmly behind the Indian Armed Forces failed miserably to absolve him of the ‘crime’ of being friends with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Singh and his aides in the Punjab Congress have been smiling since. There is speculation that the wily Maharaja has also put in a quiet word with the party’s central leadership that Sidhu could become a liability for the party in the post-Pulwama scenario, especially since the BJP could project him as ‘Pakistan’s friend in the Congress’, and the party should not bank on him as a star campaigner for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.