A favourite topic of discussion in Delhi is to identify the most powerful and important person in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Political activity has picked up speed now that key Assembly polls are round the corner. While leaders of major parties have hit the campaign trail, the Bharatiya Janata Party has taken the lead in declaring the names of candidates for the year-end Madhya Pradesh election. But the inclusion of seven Lok Sabha MPs, including three Union ministers, and a senior party functionary in the list has not gone down well with those chosen as none of them wish to contest state elections. There is talk that Union minister Prahlad Singh Patel and BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya have been included essentially to deny tickets to their family members. Mr Vijayvargiya’s son Akash is an MLA from Indore and Patel’s brother Jalam Singh Patel represents the Narisnghpur constituency in the state Assembly. Both these MLAs have courted controversies during their tenure which has not gone down well with the BJP leadership. Akash Vijayvarigya was in the news three years ago when he attacked a civic official with a cricket bat following an argument over a demolition drive. Jalam Singh Patel has been named in several criminal cases and in one such instance, he was also arrested. Mr Vijayvargiya has reason to worry as he has been allotted a constituency in Indore which he has not contested before while Prahlad Patel is nervous because he owes his victory to his brother’s organisational skills and grassroots connection. There is a likelihood that his brother may not put in his best effort this time as he is not in the fray himself.
After the Bharatiya Janata Party chose to field sitting MPs and Union ministers in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls, it is believed the same experiment could be repeated in poll-bound Rajasthan. This has got the Rajasthan MPs worried as they are obviously not keen to contest for Assembly polls though these appear to be favourable for the BJP. They are not inclined to move to state politics after enjoying a stint on the national political stage. Former Union minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who represents Jaipur Rural constituency in the Lok Sabha, is among the jittery Lok Sabha MPs from the desert state. He has been spending a lot of time in his constituency and campaigning hard in the hope of contesting next year’s Lok Sabha polls. He is concerned that if he is fielded in the Assembly polls and is elected, he will not be considered for a Lok Sabha seat. He has been nursing hopes of becoming a minister at the Centre again, post 2024 elections. Meanwhile, the Congress is enjoying the predicament of BJP MPs, with one senior leader cackling, “Thank God, we have zero MPs from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.”
While the Bharatiya Janata Party has been quick to select its candidates for the coming Assembly polls, the Congress is still to get its act together. According to party insiders, Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath is taking his time as he expects more defections from the BJP in the coming days. This is worrying sitting legislators and other party hopefuls who feel their names could be axed to accommodate as the newly-inducted leaders will be given preference in ticket distribution. Then there is a tussle with poll strategist Sunil Kanugolu who is believed to have been told by Kamal Nath that candidate selection should be left to the party and that he should focus on drawing up campaign pitches on different issues.
A favourite topic of discussion in Delhi is to identify the most powerful and important person in the Prime Minister’s Office. The names of principal secretary P.K. Mishra and national security adviser Ajit Doval come to mind immediately but it is low-key Hiren Joshi, OSD, communications and information technology, who is said to be extremely close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Not only does Mr Joshi handle the PM’s social media accounts but he also enjoys easy access to Mr Modi. Little wonder then that people who wish to meet the PM first line up to meet Mr Joshi, who is invariably too busy with work to meet them in a hurry.
The decision by several members of the Opposition bloc, INDIA, to boycott the talk shows conducted by 14 television news anchors has often been ignored by enthusiastic Congress members, much to the annoyance of the party’s media department. For instance, Congress Lok Sabha MP Ravneet Singh Bittu recently participated in a debate on the downturn in India’s relations with Canada which was conducted by a prime time news anchor who figures in the list of 14 put out by the INDIA grouping. Similarly, a young Youth Congress member was also seen in conversation with a “banned news anchor”. While she was reprimanded and issued a notice, the Congress media department appeared reluctant to pull up Mr Bittu for flouting the party diktat. The Punjab leader, it was said, would be issuing an apology. It is still being awaited. This preferential treatment meted out to Mr Bittu has also caused a lot of heartburn in the party.