Why Amit Shah's focus on Bengal is telling
The Union home minister, Amit Shah, ignoring the Bihar assembly polls and dashing to Bengal has led to whispers in the corridors of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP chief, JP Nadda, was scheduled to be in Bengal on November 5-6, but Shah replaced him. Shah skipped Bihar in spite of promising to go there for canvassing. This is being seen as an effort by Shah to claim Bengal as his baby. The BJP had stunned everyone by bagging 18 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal last year when Shah was the party chief. Now, Shah wants to take control of the party’s strategy for the Bengal assembly polls next year, hoping to wrest the state away for the BJP. If that happens, it will be seen as a big achievement for Shah and not Nadda. In hushed voices, some party leaders have said that they view it as an effort to undermine Nadda. They also feel that the home minister may have chosen not to go to Bihar after getting unfavourable ground reports. Even if the party does not succeed, Shah would escape finger-pointing, first because he is officially not the party boss and, second, because everyone feels that winning Bengal is a tall order. In that case, it would be projected that it was only on account of Shah that the BJP could put up such a fight.
Political leaders in Assam are ‘turning’ into footballers while trying to go one-up on their rivals or sending a message. It started with the BJP leader and Assam minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, promising to pump in a hundred goals a day against rival parties in the run-up to the Bodoland Territorial Region polls in December. “I will alone pump in 100 goals. Then there are others...”, Sarma said. In response, the Bodoland People’s Front chairperson, Hagrama Mohilary, said, “I know how and when to give goals... I am an original footballer. Wait for the BTC polls to get over, you will see how I score the goals”.
Mohilary’s message was not lost on those following Assam’s politics. The BPF is a constituent in the BJP-led coalition government in Assam but is contesting separately for the BTR polls, leading to speculation of a possible break in the coalition before the state assembly polls in 2021 if it loses power. The BPF had won 12 seats in the BTC and Bodo-dominated areas in 2016. Even though new parties are flexing their muscles in the BTC, the BPF will still carry enough power to hurt the prospects of its rivals.
The game is certainly on, and the message is clear: ignore the ‘Original’ at your own peril.
The Congress in Assam is ‘donning’ the role of an auditor. The Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president, Ripun Bora, revealed that the APCC assessed the budget proposals of the BJP-led state government since 2016 and what it has actually done on the ground, suggesting that the Congress will make development, or the lack of it, an important part of its poll plank for 2021. Bora said that the Congress will hold a press conference each for the 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 budgets, and then compile its findings in a book.
“Our findings have revealed that the BJP-led government’s budgets, since they came to power in 2016, is story of faki and unfulfilled promises [sic]. We challenge the BJP to prove us wrong,” Bora said. Himanta Biswa Sarma has reportedly accepted the challenge, urging the Congress to send a delegation so he can update it about the budget outcomes, or he could meet the party’s MLAs. Bora reportedly said they will meet Sarma wherever he wants but in the presence of neutral observers.
Since he was handed the reins of Assam in 2016, the first-time chief minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, has appeared to be a man on trial. The presence of his cabinet colleague, Himanta Biswa Sarma, did not help; the latter was perceived as the force driving the Sonowal dispensation because of his long ministerial experience in the erstwhile Congress government and then his emergence as the BJP’s pointsman in the Northeast. But the pandemic has given Sonowal the scope to come into his own. He travelled the state on official trips, matching Sarma step for step. While inaugurating a flyover extension in Guwahati in October, Sonowal subtly conveyed who was in charge; while praising Sarma for his efforts in the construction of the flyover, Sonowal said, “The confidence and trust with which I handed [Sarma] the responsibility to run the public works department have been proved right”.
A new team has emerged in the Congress, quietly pushing out the entrenched forces. While Rahul Gandhi is just the Wayanad parliamentarian, he is still being treated as party chief. Sonia Gandhi did not involve herself in electioneering in Bihar; all poll management was handled by Rahul’s office. The election witnessed this change in the party’s hierarchy most vividly as Randeep Surjewala handled the campaigning and the media was looked after by young spokespersons like Pawan Khera, Supriya Shrinate and Gourav Vallabh. Veterans like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal were missing in action. For the Muslim constituency, the campaigning was done by a young Uttar Pradesh poet, Imran Pratapgarhi; Azad was not invited to the state. Among younger leaders who campaigned extensively was Sachin Pilot, who appears to have swiftly regained his clout in spite of the unseemly episode in Rajasthan. He campaigned in Madhya Pradesh as well, standing against Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is now struggling in the BJP. Pilot is obviously back; this could not be done without the total confidence of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul.
The debate in Karnataka is over who will lose his chair in the coming months: the chief minister, BS Yediyurappa, or the leader of the Opposition, PC Siddaramaiah. Siddaramaiah said Yediyurappa would be replaced; the BJP retorted that the Congressman would lose his position as Opposition leader in six weeks. According to the BJP, the state Congress chief, DK Shivakumar, was planning to upstage Siddaramaiah. The fate of the two key politicians has become a hot topic of at least coffee table discussions.