Shastra Pujan: Rajnath's golden opportunity
The large-scale mocking on Twitter notwithstanding, the Union defence minister, Rajnath Singh, is reported to be very happy over the wide publicity that his move to perform “shastra pujan” (weapon worship) of the Rafale fighter jet in France received. The idea to take the handover of the first Rafale on Bijoya Dashami or Dussehra and use the occasion to perform “shastra pujan” was given by one of his confidantes. Party leaders said that it was a Hindu tradition to do “shastra pujan” on Dussehra day, and Singh cleverly utilized the opportunity to strengthen his image in the wider sangh parivar.
Singh has always been known as a moderate face of the Bharatiya Janata Party who had tried to fashion himself like the deceased former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He had even chosen to contest the Lucknow Lok Sabha seat, a constituency with a good Muslim population that Vajpayee used to represent. In the second Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre, however, many feel that Singh appears to be attempting an image makeover of dramatic proportions. The dhoti-kurta wearing old-school politician from the heartland can now be seen in battle fatigues and dark goggles flying in fighter jets and firing a medium machine gun from an Indian Navy ship. He flew in the new Rafale after the “shastra pujan”. The dramatic visuals of the leader on news channels have raised eyebrows in party circles. Leaders are wondering whether Singh, who was shifted out of the home ministry to make way for Amit Shah, is trying to compete or remain relevant.
The mercurial Sardar who was the key campaigner for the Congress is not on the list of star campaigners for the upcoming state polls in Haryana and Maharashtra. Both are ideal battlegrounds for Navjot Singh Sidhu. While the Punjab leader is very popular in neighbouring Haryana, his association with the Mumbai entertainment industry has made him a household name in Maharashtra. But Sidhu, who resigned as minister after differences with the Punjab chief minister, Amarinder Singh, seems to be in cold storage. His rapport with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is well known; his Twitter handle, with a picture of him with Rahul and Priyanka, has also been silent since July. Is the entertainer contemplating a divorce from the Congress? Or he is lying low till Rahul returns to helm the party?
The Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, addressed the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen via video conference after the ministry of external affairs denied him clearance to travel on the grounds that his attendance “was not commensurate with the level of participation from other countries”. Delhi has three municipal corporations, a cantonment board and a municipal council. The corporations are held by the BJP, and the rest are controlled by the Centre. The CM is the elected head of the capital territory’s government. The Bengal minister, Firhad Hakim, was allowed to attend in the capacity of additionally being the mayor of Calcutta. The Aam Aadmi Party questioned the BJP’s logic behind disallowing Kejriwal when the foreign ministry had permitted his predecessor, Sheila Dikshit, to attend the 2007 summit in New York. The United Progressive Alliance was in power then. Dikshit was also denied permission to attend the Ninth National Clean Cities Conference and Exposition in the United States of America in 2003 when the National Democratic Alliance was in power.
The Public Accounts Committee is a key instrument in unearthing corruption of any government, state or Central. The PAC scrutinizes governmental decisions and internal records, and no government can hide all its misdeeds from the body, which is traditionally headed by an Opposition leader. In Maharashtra, the Congress’s misfortune is that its leader, Gopal Agarwal, who headed the PAC, joined the BJP just before the elections. The flow of information to the Congress had stopped long before his defection, as his relations with the party had become strained because of his decision to align with the BJP in order to grab the municipality in his area, Gondia.
Agarwal maintained that he was not sympathetic to the BJP but aligned with it to keep the Nationalist Congress Party out of power in his constituency. His bête noire in Gondia, the NCP leader, Praful Patel, complained to the Congress veteran, Ahmed Patel, and got a show-cause issued against Agarwal. Sources close to him say he was also angry because Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel, despite several requests, did not meet him after the local alignment with the BJP. He felt this was immature, as he was holding the important post of the PAC chairman. He wanted to tell Sonia that he was against Praful Patel, not enamoured of Narendra Modi. But he was treated as persona non grata in the Congress. After he joined the BJP, the Maharashtra chief minister, Devendra Fadnavis, said: “Gopalji was physically in the Congress but always mentally in the BJP.”
The BJP in Karnataka is firefighting after the outburst of the party MLA, Basangouda Patil Yatnal, against the Centre for ignoring the flood-hit state and not even allowing the chief minister, BS Yediyurappa, to meet the Prime Minister. The Centre eventually announced Rs 1,200 crore as flood relief, against the estimated loss of about Rs 35,000 crore. The handout did not ease Yatnal’s headache as he refused to respond to a show-cause over his flare-up against the Centre. The bitter pill ahead of the bypolls for 17 assembly seats is truly difficult for the BJP to swallow.
The Congress’s Kerala unit has a new problem from within just ahead of the bypolls for five assembly seats. While party veterans had kind of established that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the BJP were in a deal to transfer votes, Shashi Tharoor came out with all guns blazing against any such possibility. His contention was that Malayali voters were too smart to cross-vote even if their own party suggested it. The party unit is at its wits’ end with the contrarian view of one of its star campaigners.