The Princess Factor
Much is being made of India’s success in getting the Dubai government to extradite AgustaWestland chopper scam middleman Christian Michel. Michel is a British citizen and Dubai would not normally extradite a Britisher to a third country because of the diplomatic implications. The Dubai government, in fact, had to pass a special administrative order to pave the way for the extradition. The actual reason is a quid pro quo—Dubai was grateful to India for its help in sending back princess Sheikha Latifa Bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, daughter of the ruler of Dubai, who had run away from the kingdom on a friend’s yacht a few weeks earlier.
Dubai authorities tracking the yacht called up the PMO and asked for help in returning the runaway royal to Dubai. It was red flagged for the prime minister who ordered National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to do whatever was necessary to intercept the yacht, Nostromo, and capture the princess and return her to Dubai, forcibly, if necessary. Doval got in touch with the Coast Guard and gave them the co-ordinates as sent from Dubai. Three Coast Guard cutters along with a naval helicopter swung into action and intercepted the yacht around 30 miles off the Goa coast, where heavily armed Marcos swarmed aboard and took over the vessel which was then diverted to Dubai where the princess was handed over. Dubai’s ruler was extremely grateful and indebted to India, hence the decision to send Michel to New Delhi.
Three prominent women will be missing in electoral action when the 2019 Lok Sabha polls get underway. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has already announced that ill health prevents her from contesting from the Vidisha constituency for the third time—in 2014, she won the seat by a margin of over 400,000 votes, but her kidney transplant in 2016 has clearly taken its toll. Another BJP minister, firebrand Uma Bharti, a prominent face of the Ayodhya temple movement, has also announced she will not be contesting the 2019 polls, ostensibly to work on cleaning the Ganga but sources say she too is facing health problems. The most prominent woman to be missing in action in 2019 is Sonia Gandhi. The former Congress president has been unwell for some time now and her campaign this year for the state assembly elections was highly restricted. She can no longer spend days on the campaign trail—she needs frequent health checks abroad. Sources say she has informed selected people in the party that she would like daughter Priyanka to contest from her Rae Bareli constituency. Priyanka is no stranger to the constituency, having campaigned there for the last two general elections on behalf of her mother and the constituents know her well, and respect her.
Lalu Prasad Sidhu
With Lalu Prasad Yadav, the BJP’s most devastating and vociferous populist critic in jail, the ruling party has another voice to contend with—that of cricket star-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu. His anti-BJP tirades, delivered in classic one-liners and stinging couplets replete with earthy imagery and folk poetry, are brutally unsparing of Prime Minister Modi and his alter ego, Amit Shah.
He has become a one-person battering ram against the RSS brigades as well as his former party (BJP), as he travels across the country during the election season. His lines such as “Congress Gave Us Four Gandhis, BJP Gave US Three Modis” have gone viral.
The BJP’s social media armies see him as another Lalu avatar, who punches with greater effect than even Rahul Gandhi’s rejuvenated Twitter cells. According to insiders, a BJP-friendly media outlet recently assigned a reporter to edit one of Sidhu’s video diatribes and add voices shouting “Pakistan Zindabad” to discredit Sidhu as a pro-Pakistani “anti-national.”
Union minister Piyush Goyal was recently scheduled to fly to Guwahati with a team of senior officers on an important government assignment. The accompanying officials reached Delhi airport promptly at 6 am and waited patiently for the minister.
When Goyal did not show up after a long wait, a worried official called his residence. The response from the factotum who answered the phone at Goyal’s residence was: “Sahib is sleeping.” The official tour was called off. This is not the first time Goyal has been involved in a controversy. A few months ago, when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was recovering from a kidney transplant and Goyal was “acting” in his stead, he reportedly called several top Mumbai industrialists to inform them that he would soon occupy that post permanently. This did not sit well with the BJP hierarchy.
Counting chickens, again?
With polling for the Madhya Pradesh assembly over, the euphoria in the Congress camp is eerily similar to what it was when the party contested the 2008 elections; confident that it would trounce the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government. The BJP, in 2008, had completed its first term in office in MP and the five years had seen three chief ministers—Uma Bharti, Babulal Gaur and Chouhan. The Congress back then was confident of reclaiming the state it had comprehensively lost in 2003. Even before the votes were counted, the Congress’ state leadership had begun discussing allocation of ministerial berths. On counting day, the Congress was rejected by the voters, although it registered its best performance in the state over the past 15 years, winning 71 of the state’s 230 seats against its tally of 38 in 2003 and 58 in 2013.
Circa 2018. With the BJP battling strong anti-incumbency, the Congress is again buoyant about its potential victory. A coterie around state president Kamal Nath has begun drafting the blueprint for his would-be cabinet, with the post of chief minister, of course, reserved for Nath, who incidentally has not contested the polls. Incumbent Leader of the Opposition Ajay Singh is being pitched for the home minister’s role while senior leaders Rajendra Singh, KP Singh, Sajjan Verma, Arif Aqueel are tipped for other ministerial berths. Former Union minister Suresh Pachouri, who had been lobbying for the chief minister’s post in 2008, is touted to take over as the speaker, much to his chagrin. But will the Congress be fourth time lucky? We’ll know on December 11.
Disquiet on the Western Front
Till just a few months ago, the Congress party sounded confident of sweeping the Rajasthan assembly polls while its leaders were unsure of the outcome of the elections due in MP, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. With polling now over for each of these states, there seems to be a mood reversal within the Grand Old Party. Congress insiders now seem confident of reclaiming MP, Chhattisgarh (both under BJP rule for 15 years) and Telangana but say the fight against the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP in Rajasthan hasn’t been a cakewalk. The Congress is now cautiously optimistic of Rajasthan but feels that the victory will be narrow. The disquiet in the party’s western front has been triggered by a slew of factors. The factional feud between chief ministerial hopefuls Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, which the duo had managed to keep dormant for several months, erupted soon after the party began the process of selecting its candidates. Unlike MP, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, the Congress’s campaign in Rajasthan had also peaked too early. Its initial aggression went missing as polling day approached. And then there was Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s embarrassing “Kumbhakaran lift yojana” gaffe.
The BJP, in contrast, had reserved its most virulent leg of the campaign for the last five days of canvassing—fielding Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, and not Raje, to take on the Congress.
The Congress party’s poll observers returning from Rajasthan have been telling journalists that the dreaded “Modi factor” is back in play.