Saturday, Aug 19, 2017 | Last Update : 10:51 AM IST
PM Narendra Modi never hosts an iftar and makes it a point to skip the one hosted by the President.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and a host of former ministers and environmentalists lined up for the launch of Jairam Ramesh’s book, Indira Gandhi — A Life in Nature, at a small gathering last week. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was conspicuous by his absence at the programme which was held as part of Indira Gandhi’s birth centennial year. He was apparently scheduled to attend the book launch but failed to turn up. Those who attended said the programme was delayed and the guests were kept waiting for Mr Gandhi and even Mrs Gandhi appeared clueless about her son’s whereabouts.
The proceedings got under way only after the Congress president got a message from Mr Gandhi that he would not be coming as he was in Amritsar that day.
This seemingly minor incident basically reflects the communication gap between the party president and vice-president. When this is the situation at the top, it is not surprising that the Congress rank and file feels frustrated with Mr Gandhi’s inaccessibility to the ordinary party workers, who end up spending days in New Delhi waiting to meet him. Most often, they are unsuccessful in their mission.
Till three years ago, politicians across the political spectrum made it a point to host an iftar party during the holy month of Ramzan. But these iftar parties, an occasion for both socialising and politicking, have virtually stopped after the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014.
While the BJP has never been comfortable on such occasions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi never hosts an iftar and makes it a point to skip the one hosted by the President. He had once famously declined to wear a skull cap offered to him when he was Gujarat chief minister.
Given this backdrop, everyone was taken aback when Gujarat governor O.P. Kohli, who is holding additional charge of Madhya Pradesh, hosted an iftar in Bhopal last week. This move was particularly bewildering because Mr Kohli is a senior BJP leader, deeply rooted in the party’s culture and ethos. With no other explanation forthcoming, people believe that Mr Kohli had possibly deferred to Bhopal’s composite culture when he decided to host an iftar in the city. The big question now is: Will Mr Kohli host a similar gathering in Gujarat, a state whose people are not only extremely conservative but are also more attuned to Mr Modi’s brand of politics?
As speculation about changes in the Congress Party’s state units gathers momentum, the rivalry between former ministers and political rivals Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia is also intensifying. Both leaders are keen to head the Madhya Pradesh Congress and have made strenuous efforts in the recent past to establish their credentials for this post. Recently, when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi travelled to Mandsaur to visit the families of farmers killed in the violent protests, he was accompanied by Kamal Nath and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh. Mr Nath had been prompt in issuing a press statement a day before, condemning the police firing on protesting farmers.
Mr Scindia, who was abroad at that time, cut short his stay when he heard about the violence in his home state. Like the others, he also attempted to visit Mandsaur, but was stopped from reaching there by the police.
Mr Scindia then followed it up with a satyagraha while Bhopal was plastered with posters proclaiming, “Kisan ke samman mein, Scindia maidan mein”. Mr Scindia was also quick to publicise his efforts on Twitter. Clearly, the battle for Madhya Pradesh is heating up in the Congress.
There was a time when minister of state for commerce Nirmala Sitharaman was among the most recognised faces of the BJP. Before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, she was fielded regularly by the party to hit out at the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. Articulate and intelligent, Ms Sitharaman was therefore a natural choice for a ministerial berth in the Narendra Modi government. Unlike her Cabinet colleague Smriti Irani, who has a knack for hitting the headlines often for the wrong reasons, Ms Sitharaman has virtually disappeared from the scene. She is barely seen or heard these days. It was also surprising and mystifying that Ms Sitharaman was not among the frontline ministers who were called upon to present the government’s achievements during its third anniversary celebrations. This has predictably resulted in several conspiracy theories.
Her detractors in the party maintain this may be because the top bosses are not happy with her handling of the commerce ministry. However, Ms Sitharaman was called in last week after a prolonged gap to attack former Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit for his unbecoming remarks about the Army Chief. But this failed to convince the sceptics in the BJP.