A young Pilot is looking ahead, and why not?
After Jyotiraditya Scindia, is Sachin Pilot, too, mulling the possibility of bidding the Congress goodbye? That has been the speculation for a while now. Pilot has never been happy playing deputy in Rajasthan to the chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, and believed that the seat was rightfully his. However, with the party rudderless, Pilot’s hopes of being able to get the high command on his side have remained frustrated. So while the world gets used to social distancing, Pilot has, of late, been practising a bit of political connecting. He has been in touch with members of the legislative assembly from the Congress in Rajasthan and persuading them to form a separate group — or a small party? — so that they can jettison from the Congress and do a deal with the Bharatiya Janata Party to topple the Gehlot government. Pilot, of course, imagines himself chief minister in this scheme. And the BJP may not be averse to it considering that it would take Vasundhara Raje out of the power equation.
The coronavirus has forced Rahul Gandhi to postpone the ambitious public outreach plan that he had drawn up from the beginning of March. This much-awaited outing would have injected some life into the Opposition and also brought some clarity to the leadership question in the Congress. Another major programme that the Congress had to postpone is the ‘Gandhi Sandesh Yatra’ that was supposed to start from Sabarmati Ashram on March 12. The 26-day march from Ahmedabad to Dandi in Navsari was planned to highlight both the social and economic state of affairs in the country. The top Congress leadership, including Rahul, was expected to participate in the campaign that would have given a fillip to the party in Gujarat.
While these programmes are unlikely to be taken up now in peak summer even if the Covid-19 scare ends, the party will get busy with the Bihar elections after that. There was a rough schedule in the minds of the party leaders that the Congress plenary could be held by October-November after these events to resolve the leadership question. The plan has to be redrawn now. Another fear that is tormenting the Opposition is that the coronavirus disruption might have already derailed the nationwide momentum against the Narendra Modi government triggered by the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests. It may be difficult to rebuild the movement after a long break.
The resignation of five Congress MLAs in Gujarat ensured that the party will not be able to win two seats in the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections. It is almost certain that one candidate will fall short of two or three votes. Under these circumstances, the party strategists held a meeting to decide on the withdrawal of one candidate from the fray. But that was not an easy task, as it involved asking one of the two heavyweight candidates — Shaktisinh Gohil and Bharatsinh Solanki — to sit the election out.
The real dilemma was that the high command favoured Gohil but was not ready to express its preference in order to avoid annoying Solanki. So it was decided that both will remain in the fray. Now there is a genuine fear that Gohil will lose out because Solanki, being the former state unit chief, holds much greater sway with the MLAs. The BJP, too, would target Gohil more than Solanki because he is a more strident critic of the prime minister. Both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah know Gohil’s presence in the Rajya Sabha is going to be a constant irritant as he troubled them in the Gujarat assembly for years.
On Friday, the Aam Aadmi Party shut its office to the public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Earlier in the day, the AAP’s Rajya Sabha member, Sushil Gupta, put up a notice outside his Firozshah Road residence requesting people not to come home in order to practice social distancing. A former Congress leader in the capital, Gupta’s home was the hangout of many city journalists and politicians of Haryana, the state in which he is the AAP’s in-charge. The AAP government in Delhi has shut theatres, spas, malls and several markets, and the metro is allowing only a minimum number of passengers. Only essential services and officials working on the budget are attending work, and the government has ordered paid leave for several permanent and contractual non-essential staff.
Karnataka has been a tad slow in terms of cracking down on large gatherings, including religious festivals, after the coronavirus outbreak. But its leaders seem to be quick enough in social distancing from their admirers who flock by the hundreds each day. The buzz in the state’s political circles is how to fend of fans on birthdays. The people take their leaders’ birthdays very seriously and drop in with gigantic garlands, sweet packets and fruit baskets; they could be a huge risk at this time. So many leaders are planning to either defer birthday celebrations or just disappear for a couple of days.