Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 | Last Update : 03:30 PM IST
The BJP is only too happy with this development as a division in the votes will work to its advantage.
In addition to herding 44 Gujarat legislators to a resort in Bengaluru, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel made every possible effort to reach out to other MLAs in the run-up to his high-stakes Rajya Sabha election last week. Besides visiting fence-sitting legislators at their homes, Mr Patel also made it a point to ring up rebel Congress leader Shankarsinh Vaghela every morning to seek his support even after he walked out of the party along with six other lawmakers. Mr Vaghela repeatedly assured Mr Patel that he would vote for him, declaring dramatically, “pran jaaye par vachan na jaaye.” It is a different story that Mr Vaghela was quick to go back on his word, stating that he did not wish to vote for a losing candidate. Expectedly, Mr Vaghela has been expelled from the Congress. The buzz is that Mr Vaghela is going to float his own party and contest the Assembly polls in partnership with the Nationalist Congress Party whose president Sharad Pawar is apparently going to bankroll his campaign. The BJP is only too happy with this development as a division in the votes will work to its advantage. Mr Vaghela, on his part, believes that if he can win 20-25 seats, he would be in a position to play kingmaker after the elections.
The death of BJP’s Lok Sabha member from Ajmer Sanwar Lal Jat, which will necessitate a bypoll, is being seen as an opportunity for the Congress to test its strength on the ground. This is especially so because the Congress consistently maintains that its ongoing campaign against the Vasundhara Raje government is proving to be a big success and that the tide is turning in its favour. In fact, it is also being said that Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot, who lost to Jat in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, should be fielded to send out a strong message to their rivals. Needless to say that it is Mr Pilot’s detractors who are making a strong case for his candidature for the bypoll. But senior Congress leaders maintain that the party cannot take such a risk as a defeat for its state unit chief would prove to be counter-productive. In any case, they point out that a bypoll is not a barometer to assess the popularity of a state government.
Besides handling their own portfolios, ministries are also being pushed to implement Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship programmes like Swachh Bharat, GST rollout, Make in India and Skill India. Each ministry has been instructed to hold weekly meetings to monitor the implementation of these schemes. The feedback is then forwarded to the Cabinet secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office. As a result, ministries are unable to devote much time to their work as officials are busy collating material from industry representatives and civil society groups on the status of the flagship programmes. While industry representatives are quick to provide the necessary information, bureaucrats often struggle to explain how they are implementing these schemes. There have been instances when the power point presentation by officials give details of the number of broken chairs and tables they have discarded in their respective ministries. There is a classic case of a bureaucrat showing a picture of a cupboard overflowing with files, which is miraculously emptied thanks to the Swachch Bharat campaign. It is the same story with the GST rollout. Industry representatives were being pressured to give details of success stories barely 10 days after it was introduced.
Ever since textiles minister Smriti Irani was given additional charge of the information and broadcasting ministry, she has evinced considerable interest in this high-profile portfolio. She has been holding regular meetings with ministry officials and has lost no time in issuing a string of instructions. Ms Irani is also keeping a sharp eye on mediapersons who are not ideologically aligned with the BJP government. If the Delhi grapevine is to be believed, the ministry has even prepared dossiers on such journalists and is waiting for them to err so that it can pull them up. According to BJP insiders, Ms Irani is keeping up this frenetic pace in the hope that she will be moved to the IB ministry when PM Narendra Modi undertakes the much-awaited Cabinet reshuffle.
The biggest loser here has been minister of state Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore whose role has gradually shrunk over the past year or so. When finance minister Arun Jaitley held additional charge of this ministry, he had delegated most of his work to Mr Rathore. This changed when the media-savvy M. Venkaiah Naidu took over this ministry and now that Ms Irani is in-charge, there is even less scope for Mr Rathore to hit the headlines.