Locked down dilemmas hold back Rahul's grand return
Time is always of the essence. The lockdown and social-distancing norms have badly affected the restructuring plans of the Congress. Even though the return of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president is almost certain, the final stroke is caught between two sets of opinions. While one section believes Rahul should assume responsibility without further delay, the other is of the view that he should return only after the lockdown is lifted and physical movement is made possible. This is not without reason. One insider said, “We all want him to take charge as soon as possible. But what is the point in returning now when he can’t reach out to the people, can’t address rallies, can’t hold Congress plenary to motivate the workers? We don’t want this event to pass without adequate impact.”
The Congress had planned a grand return for the Nehru-Gandhi scion: it was to follow a massive nationwide outreach programme led by Rahul and at least half a dozen public rallies. But the onset of Covid-19 derailed that plan. Rahul’s aides now believe that the deepening political crisis in the country has opened up an opportunity for an onslaught by the Opposition. But little can be done with restrictions on public gatherings in place. As Covid-19 infections are still on the rise, the plan may have to be deferred further by a few months. However, some believe that if the Covid-19 crisis drags on for another year, waiting for the right time would be politically counter-productive.
The Rajasthan political saga has got many wondering if Sachin Pilot is drawing inspiration from the master strategist in politics — Sharad Pawar. Indeed, there are some similarities between the course of action that Pilot is undertaking and the one which Pawar did in 1978, when he broke away with 38 members of the legislative assembly from the coalition government of Vasantdada Patil to become the youngest chief minister of Maharashtra at the age of 37. His government lasted around two years, but Pawar went on to become a force to reckon with in Indian politics and gradually earned a reputation of being a good administrator; both as a chief minister and as a Central minister. His nephew, Ajit Pawar, tried a repeat last year but got outfoxed by his uncle.
The defence minister, Rajnath Singh, finally made it to Ladakh on Friday. His visit had been scheduled for earlier this month. But the plan had to be put on hold because, all of a sudden, the prime minister, Narendra Modi, had decided to make the visit instead.
It seems that Singh not only made the most of his trip but may have even gone a little too far. Like the prime minister, Singh addressed the troops, but he did so at Lukung, 40 kilometres from the Pangong Tso, where Indian and Chinese soldiers are in the process of disengagement. Singh said the ongoing talks between India and China should resolve the border dispute. But then he added something that is believed to not have gone down well in the corridors of power. “Whatever talks have happened so far, the matter should get resolved... but to what extent it would be resolved, I cannot guarantee,” said Singh. Many in New Delhi’s power circuit feel that the old-school leader has erred by adding the words “cannot guarantee”. Perhaps Singh got carried away in the bid to hog the headlines like the prime minister, but he may have stepped on to a slippery slope.
K Muraleedharan, who returned to the Congress in 2011 after leaving it to form a party of his own and then join the Nationalist Congress Party — all within a span of six years — still nurses a grouse against some in the current bunch of Congress leaders in Kerala. He seems to hold them responsible for having fabricated a spy story, involving a space scientist, to displace his father, the then chief minister, K Karunakaran. Of late, Muraleedharan’s words seem to have become a bane for his party. Rumour has it that he claimed that the coronavirus would not survive Kerala’s summer heat and declared community spread at a time when the government was still battling to contain the infection. Some think that he might be doing this to dent the party that sidelined his father. Or perhaps he is just getting restless again.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which has a negligible presence in Rajasthan, made an attempt to milk the political crisis in the state against the Congress. As India’s grand old party is engaged in staving off attacks by its own MLAs led by Sachin Pilot, the AAP parliamentarian, Sanjay Singh, said at a presser in Jaipur on Wednesday that “neither medicine nor ventilators can save the ICU-ridden Congress” which failed to save its MLAs from being poached in Goa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. He added that the “whole country is awaiting AAP’s emergence as a national alternative”. Incidentally, the fledgling parliamentary party split right down the middle in the previous Lok Sabha polls, and the party has practically lost its unit in Punjab — where it is the main Opposition — to dissidence. Raghav Chadha, the AAP’s favourite spokesperson for TV, continued the Covid-19 analogy the next day. He said, “No plasma therapy, hydroxychloroquine, or Remdesivir can save [the Congress] from the impending death. ” Unsurprisingly, the party’s online army had to rush to defend it from being called the Bharatiya Janata Party’s B-team on Twitter.
It is no secret that the health minister of Karnataka, B Sriramulu, is not the man who is steering the state’s Covid-19 management. But his words were a lesson on what not to say during such a pandemic. The minister drew flak for saying “only God has to save us” from the virus, as the state, especially Bangalore, was being flooded with new cases. When even his god-fearing government flinched, Sriramulu claimed his words were meant to caution, not to create panic.