The timing is interesting as the RLD won the Kairana Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh last Thursday after teaming up with the SP, BSP and Congress.
Nearly two weeks ago, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had set the ball rolling for the year-end Assembly election in Chhattisgarh with a two-day packed programme, which included a public meeting in Pendra, a stronghold of party rebel Ajit Jogi. The former chief minister, who walked out of the Congress nearly two years ago and floated his own party (Chhattisgarh Janata Congress) had hit back and booked the meeting grounds for his party programmes. Given the bitterness between the two parties, it was, therefore, surprising when Mr Gandhi called up Mr Jogi’s wife, Renu Jogi, from the United States last week to enquire about the former Congress leader’s health. Mr Jogi is undergoing treatment at Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon for pneumonia after he was flown down from Raipur by an air ambulance last week. Not expecting a call from the Congress chief, Ms Jogi was puzzled when her phone rang and the caller identified himself as Rahul. “Rahul who,” she asked whereupon Mr Gandhi gave his full name. The phone call has naturally created ripples in political circles because it is being seen as a tentative move by Mr Gandhi to bring Mr Jogi back to the party fold, realising that he has the capacity to play spoiler in a three-cornered contest in BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh.
As soon as it became clear last Thursday that the BJP scored poorly in the latest set of bypolls, the news set off speculation that the saffron party will further unleash the enforcement agencies against its rivals to pressurise Opposition parties from putting up a joint fight in next year’s general election. While former finance minister P. Chidambaram and his son Karti are already embroiled in the Aircel-Maxis money laundering case, the BJP believes regional leaders are vulnerable when it comes to corruption cases. It is no coincidence then that the CBI recently began inquiries against AirAsia head Tony Fernandes for paying bribes to get approvals for flying on international routes. It now appears that the probe is expected to extend to Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh who was the civil aviation minister during that period. The timing is interesting as the RLD won the Kairana Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh last Thursday after teaming up with the SP, BSP and Congress. The victory has obviously set alarm bells ringing in the BJP.
Now that the Karnataka Assembly polls and the drama over government formation is over, the BJP president is focused on planning for the year-end Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh as well as the 2019 general election. Realising that of the three northern states, the BJP faces the toughest challenge in Rajasthan, Amit Shah is ready to set up base in Jaipur. He is said to have hired a house in the Pink City as he had done in Karnataka so that he can spend sufficient time in the poll-bound state and monitor preparations for the contest ahead. Predictably, Mr Shah’s focus on Rajasthan has not gone unnoticed by the Congress, which is confident that it will succeed in dethroning the Vasundhara Raje government given the growing anti-incumbency against the chief minister. There is a buzz in Rajasthan Congress that Mr Shah will use all means (both fair and foul) in the run-up to elections to overcome the dwindling popularity ratings of the state government. It is expected that the state will witness a fresh round of religious polarisation in the coming weeks while the use of money and state power will be on full display to engineer defections in the rival camp. The word is out that the Congress in Rajasthan better beware as Mr Shah is arriving with his bag of tricks.
Smriti Irani was known to have easy access to the Prime Minister’s Office during the period she was heading the high-profile information and broadcasting ministry. Given the nature of her work, she was required to interact with the PMO to fine-tune the government’s communications strategy and messaging. This task is monitored closely by the PMO since the next general election is only a year away. According to the capital’s political grapevine, Ms Irani is no longer a regular visitor to the PMO after she was stripped of the I&B ministry. Ms Irani, who is left with the charge of textiles ministry, has been keeping a low profile since then as it has been made abundantly clear that her stock in the party has plummeted. In fact, there is a talk in the BJP circles that Ms Irani may not be picked to take on Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi Lok Sabha constituency in the next year’s general election as a high-profile contest adds to her stature. On the other hand, it will not be surprising if Ms Irani bounces back as she has done in the past.