Kapil Sibal's birthday bash was nothing more than a party, or was it?
The birthday party of the Congress parliamentarian and former minister, Kapil Sibal, generated a lot of political noise. While one section of the media innocently portrayed it as another effort to forge Opposition unity, another section mischievously linked the event to the rebel ‘Group of 23’, speculating over whether it was a plot to chart out a new path without the leadership of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Some conspiracy theorists went so far as to suggest that Sibal hosted the dinner on the day Rahul Gandhi was in Srinagar, away from Delhi. While leaders with mature thought processes laughed off the controversy, those swayed by the media’s interpretations wondered whether the G-23 was getting active again.
The truth, however, is that it was a birthday party used by the host for some political publicity. One G-23 member remarked in a private conversation, “Sibal, too, is very ambitious, but he will realize the ground reality if he invites the same set of leaders with the stated objective of forging Opposition unity. Top leaders went because it was the birthday party of a top lawyer who has fought everybody’s case, not of a politician who can play any role in Opposition unity”. A high-profile leader from another Opposition party said, “We went to Sibal’s birthday party, not to a political event. Politics was discussed informally because we are politicians. Had it been a cricketer’s party, the topic of discussion would be cricket”. The Opposition leaders are clear in their minds that politics will be conducted by the Congress, not a rebel group of the Congress, and there was no question of being part of a design to isolate the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Bihar has become a land of poster wars. Tej Pratap Yadav, the eldest son of the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief, Lalu Prasad, keeps lambasting senior party leaders every other day. At times, he trains his guns on journalists as well. Investigations revealed that at the root of the malaise is the continuous absence of his photographs from the huge posters in and around the state party headquarters in Patna. Lalu, Rabri Devi, their younger son, Tejashwi, and several other leaders are given space on the billboards, but not Tej Pratap. “We all know that a silent power struggle is going on in the party and Tejashwi is now way ahead in it. But not giving Tej Pratap a place in the posters is like pinching him regularly... at least give him space on the posters to keep him calm,” a senior RJD leader said.
Somebody from Tej Pratap’s group put up a huge poster displaying him prominently along with Lalu and Rabri. Tejashwi was missing. Alas, somebody blackened the poster in the dead of night. It had to be removed hurriedly in the morning.
Another poster fight is going on in Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). It is between the new national president of the party and the Lok Sabha member, Rajiv Ranjan Singh — also known as Lalan Singh — and the Union steel minister, RCP Singh, a Rajya Sabha member who was recently removed from the post of national president. The two groups keep putting up posters and pulling them down if one leader or another is either missing or poorly represented. The showdown will be on August 16, the day the Union minister returns to Patna from Delhi after losing his party chair.
The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duopoly has been systematically marginalizing senior party leaders. After edging out veterans like LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, the recent ouster of Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar from the Union cabinet was an assertion of the motive. Two faces of the old guard, Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari, remain, but their say and influence in key matters have been drastically cut. Rajnath or Gadkari could have resolved the recent stalemate in Parliament by using their experience and good equations with the Opposition, but they were not involved. Rajnath spoke, but then stepped back, possibly because he was asked to do so. The farmers’ agitation continues but neither of the two leaders have been put forward to diffuse the crisis. One reason for this, according to whispers in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s corridors, is that the current regime does not want to give importance to the Opposition by involving the two seniors. The other reason is the intent to send out the message that the prominence of these leaders is on the ebb. Many in the BJP believe that by the next general elections in 2024, Rajnath and Gadkari could find themselves on the margins.
The editor-turned-politician and the legislative assembly member from the Biju Janata Dal, Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, has kicked up a fresh political storm by describing VK Pandian — the private secretary of the Odisha chief minister, Naveen Patnaik — and the Jajpur MLA, Pranab Prakash Das, as the CM’s ‘two eyes’. Speaking at a function, Soumya, the son-in-law of the former chief minister, JB Patnaik, said, “Administrators and politicians are like the two eyes of a ruler. And in case of Naveen, they are MLA Pranab Prakash Das and Pandian babu”. He went on to say that since the CM can see only what his “two eyes” want him to see, there is always a chance of him being misled. In that case, he argued, the party will be doomed. He went on to argue the case for the supreme leader needing a third eye, or the media. “However loyal these two eyes may be, there is no guarantee they will continue to remain so. That is why a clever leader [like Naveen] also needs to have a third eye,” said Soumya, who has been sulking ever since he was excluded from the CM’s ministry. Last month, his editorial in his popular daily criticizing the state government for trying to suppress Covid-related deaths had raised eyebrows. The leader had gone to the extent of demanding a white paper on the issue from the dispensation, giving the Opposition much-needed ammunition against the government.
The BJP national general-secretary, CT Ravi, has angered the Congress by suggesting that hookah bars be opened in the name of Jawaharlal Nehru. He said this while commenting on Congress leaders’ opposition to the BJP government in Karnataka contemplating renaming Indira Canteens that offer affordable meals. Started during the Congress regime headed by PC Siddaramaiah, Indira Canteens have been a big hit in the state. The question is, will Ravi not change, or will his party not allow him to change?