The invisible man
It wasn't quite cometh the hour, cometh the man in Parliament the other day. For the second time in his tenure as prime minister, Narendra Modi was not present during voting on a crucial legislation. This time, Modi went missing at the time of the passage of the bill criminalizing instant triple talaq; on an earlier occasion, the prime minister was nowhere to be seen during the proceedings of the constitutional amendment for the rolling out of the goods and services tax bill. To be fair to him, the bill on instant triple talaq only needed a simple majority to get past the hurdles. Even then, Modi's absence generated different kinds of speculation. After all, even though netas love the spotlight, the prime minister, everyone knows, loves it the most. Why then would he give the slip to what his party has described as a momentous occasion? One conspiracy theory goes like this: the GST, which Modi launched amidst much fanfare, nearly cost the Bharatiya Janata Party the Gujarat polls. Does the PM think that the triple talaq bill, too, would rock the BJP's boat in some constituencies? If such a thing does happen at all, it would be interesting to see who Modi appoints as the fall guy for the debacle.
New and improved
Meanwhile, the PM's principal rival, a mint-new Congress president, is being seen quite a bit. Rahul Gandhi flying to Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh for a review of the election results without further ado is seen as yet another sign of change in India's Grand Old Party. Never in the past has Rahul visited states to meet local leaders to understand what went wrong with the Congress's fate at the hustings. The practice, thus far, has been to set up a committee, which would submit a report after months. By then, none, including Rahul, would be interested in the causes of the debacle. Even Rahul is not known to have returned to states after the conclusion of elections. The result? The Congress still doesn't know why it fared poorly in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Haryana and so on.
But this time, it seems that Rahul wants to do things differently. He visited Gujarat and Himachal to get first-hand accounts from candidates as well as warriors on the field.Ordinary party workers feel that such a step - meetings with the party rank and file - would go a long way in reviving the Congress's organization as well as its electoral fortunes. But some supporters are keeping their fingers crossed. Rahul has flattered to deceive in the past.
Still with Gujarat. The BJP has returned to power in the state defying strong currents of anti-incumbency. The party, critics say, could have been a bit more magnanimous after achieving its success. If the Congress and Hardik Patel are to be believed, the BJP is allegedly selectively targeting some rural areas where it fared poorly with punitive action. The BJP's opponents say that they have proof to back their claim - the rate of peanuts has been reduced; Narmada water to jeera farmers in Patan, Surendranagar and Banaskantha has been discontinued, and the price of industrial gas has been raised in Morbi. The state Congress chief has said that the 'selective vendetta' can be explained by the fact that while the BJP did well in urban areas, rural Gujarat had shown a marked preference for the Congress. In fact, the rural-urban division has been one of the most notable aspects of the Gujarat election.
If these allegations are proved to be true, they would further erode the BJP's claim of vikas being inclusive in the state.
Spirit of togetherness
Following the Gujarat verdict, the prospects of simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram have brightened. The BJP thinks that the Congress could give it a tough fight in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. A poor showing in these states could even have an impact on the BJP's fortunes in the 2019 general elections. But, if parliamentary polls were to be advanced, 'Modi magic' could still save the day in the Hindi-speaking belt. Little wonder then that the likes of Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje and Raman Singh are keen on the idea of simultaneous polls.
As if the tiffs with the Centre are not enough, Arvind Kejriwal is having to contend with the uncomfortable task of nominating three members to the Rajya Sabha. The final names have not been decided yet but that has not stopped the theatrics. Kumar Vishwas has demanded a seat: his supporters went to the extent of pitching a pandal on the party office premises to press his case.
The Delhi chief minister is apparently in two minds about nominating a party member. An outsider would suit Kejriwal perfectly. But the question is who is ready to bite the bait? Certainly not Raghuram Rajan. A nomination for an outsider is also likely to heighten the unrest within the AAP. Is this why Kejriwal looks a bit preoccupied these days?
• During the debate on the triple talaq bill, Asaduddin Owaisi spoke in fables. He said a monkey was once seen picking up fish from a stream and then putting them on a rock. On being asked to explain his action, the creature said that he was trying to save the fish from drowning. Owaisi then added that the government was trying to do the same with Muslim women. The BJP members did not know what had hit them.