Friday, Jan 18, 2019 | Last Update : 10:51 PM IST
Modi has publicly praised Swaraj for giving a “human face” to her ministry and for her strong speech at the UN General Assembly.
Ever since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj cared to maintain a low profile. She kept away from the media and never spoke publicly on any issue unless she had no choice in the matter. This was put down to the fact that Ms Swaraj was close to veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani and that she was not very comfortable with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There was also a perception that she had a limited role in her own ministry, which was actually being run by the Prime Minister’s Office. Ms Swaraj was, at best, the go to minister for any Indian in distress who needed help from the external affairs ministry. However, a lot has changed in the last few months. Mr Modi has publicly praised Ms Swaraj for giving a “human face” to her ministry and for her strong speech at the UN General Assembly. Consequently, Ms Swaraj is more relaxed and approachable now. The minister was at her charming best at the annual lunch she hosted recently for mediapersons. Not only did she make it a point to chat with her guests at each table, she also assured them that she will meet them more regularly in the coming days. To begin with, Ms Swaraj spent an hour in the Central Hall of Parliament last week, the first time in the last three years.
Given the differences in their political affiliation, personalities and ages, it is difficult to imagine that junior parliamentary affairs minister Vijay Goel and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could possibly have anything in common. But apparently the two have a very good equation, which dates back to the time when Mr Goel was a minister of state in the Atal Behari Vajpayee-headed Prime Minister’s Office. As Prime Minister, Dr Singh had surprised everyone when he attended the wedding reception of Mr Goel’s daughter even though relations between the Congress and the BJP were not known to be cordial. Mr Goel, therefore, took advantage of this personal relationship and went to Dr Singh’s residence to persuade him to break the logjam in the Rajya Sabha over the remarks made against the former Prime Minister by his successor Narendra Modi in his election speech in Gujarat. Mr Goel told Dr Singh that he should not allow the stalemate to continue, especially since he had always kept himself away from controversies. It was Mr Goel who went to obtain Dr Singh’s approval to the draft of the statement, which eventually broke the ice between the two parties and allowed the Upper House to resume normal business last Wednesday.
With all its senior leaders like Shaktisinh Gohil, Tushar Chaudhary, Siddharth Patel and Arjun Modhwadia losing in the recent Gujarat Assembly polls, the Congress has to find a new leader to head its legislative party in the Assembly. Since the BJP has given wide representation to the disgruntled Patidar community in its council of ministers, the Congress is under pressure to name a Patel for this post. As the Patidar community has never supported the Congress, the party is worried about an adverse reaction from other communities, which have reposed faith in it. At the same time, the Congress also has to contend with demands from other contenders. The newly-inducted first-time MLA Alpesh Thakor is said to be pressing the leadership for his own candidature as a reward for his tireless campaign among the backward classes. Unable to hand over the reins of its legislative party to a newcomer to politics, the Congress is secretly relieved that another young leader — Jignesh Mewani — did not join the party or else it would have had to deal with his demands. For the moment the 41-year-old Paresh Dhanani has emerged as the front-runner for this position. Not only is he young and feisty, he also belongs to the Patidar community and a three-time MLA, having defeated the BJP in the Amreli district of Saurashtra, one region where the Congress made maximum gains in the recent elections.
The BJP’s list of candidates for governors is growing with the tally of hopefuls going up further with the inclusion of Prem Kumar Dhumal and Anandiben Patel, former chief ministers of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Of the two, Ms Patel is on a stronger wicket. Faced with angry protests from the Patidars over the past year, the BJP is now going all out to placate them. Among other things, the Patidars were upset that the BJP first removed Ms Patel from her post last year and then chose not to replace her with another Patel. As far as they were concerned deputy chief minister Nitin Patel was a more suitable chief ministerial candidate than Vijay Rupani. While Ms Patel did not contest the recent polls, Mr Dhumal was plain unlucky. Though he was declared the BJP’s chief ministerial face, he failed to make it past the finishing line even though his party swept the hill state and went on to form the government. Mr Dhumal is now seen as a legitimate claimant for a gubernatorial posting.