Anita Katyal | AAP Faces Stubble Issue in Punjab; Poll Worries for Bhupesh

The Asian Age.  | Anita Katyal

Opinion, Columnists

Mr Kejriwal’s party is heading the government in Punjab and Delhi and is facing flak in both states on this grave matter.

Smoke and flames rise from burning paddy stubble at a field, near Patiala, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023. (PTI Photo)

With Delhi enveloped in a thick blanket of smog, the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party finds itself in a bind on the issue of stubble burning in Punjab, cited as the main reason for the rising levels of pollution in the Capital. As long as the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal were in power in Punjab, Delhi chief minister Kejriwal was free to attack them for not taking sufficient steps to end the annual practice of stubble burning in Punjab. But it’s a different story today. Mr Kejriwal’s party is heading the government in Punjab and Delhi and is facing flak in both states on this grave matter. To make matters worse, AAP leader Ashok Tanwar ended up embarrassing the party by inadvertently drawing attention to the problem in Punjab when he castigated the Haryana government recently for its inability to prevent stubble burning. Punjab advocate general Gurminder Singh also put the state government in a spot when he endorsed a Supreme Court suggestion during a hearing on Delhi pollution that paddy cultivation in the state be phased out and the Centre offer minimum support price for crops other than paddy. This proposal has the potential of antagonising the peasantry in Punjab while the AAP government runs the risk of being dubbed anti-farmer.

Though the Congress is assured of a victory in the Chhattisgarh Assembly election, the party’s state leaders are, nevertheless, nervous about their victory margin and the post-poll scenario. The Congress is worried that if it does not win a good majority, the Bharatiya Janata Party will get an opportunity to lure away its legislators as it did in Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. State Congress leaders privately maintain that for them the half-way mark in this election is not 46 but 60-plus. They said if they slip below the 60-mark, horse-trading by the BJP will come into play. Moreover, there are a sufficient number of leaders in the Congress who are unhappy with chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and will be only too happy to hop on to the BJP bandwagon. The latest survey conducted by the Congress gives the party 58-63 seats in  the 90-member Assembly. The Congress won 68 seats in the last election and had added to its tally through victories in several by-elections. Having won the state for three terms, the BJP is obviously eager to regain power in Chhattisgarh.

Although Madhya Pradesh has a small Muslim population, the Bharatiya Janata Party has not given up on its communal card, especially since state Congress chief Kamal Nath has gone out of his way to project himself as a devout Hindu by courting local godmen and proclaiming himself to be a Hanuman devotee. With the election scene hotting up, the BJP has laid its hands on an old video clip from the 2018 campaign trail in which Kamal Nath is instructing party workers to ensure that the minorities vote en bloc for the Congress. This video is being circulated extensively by BJP workers in Madhya Pradesh with a clear message to the electorate that Kamal Nath is a fake Hindu and that once the elections are over, the Congress will fall back on its old policy of minority appeasement.

India has always had high-profile foreign secretaries. Among those in recent years who are remembered for their fine diplomatic skills include Shiv Shankar Menon, Shyam Saran, Nirupama Rao and Kanwal Sibal. But the current foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra appears to be the most invisible diplomat heading the external affairs ministry. He has, to some extent, been overshadowed by external affairs minister S. Jaishankar who has served as foreign secretary and understands the requirements of the ministry. He has, over the past five years, emerged as a most active minister, who is constantly on the move, talking to world leaders and pushing India’s viewpoint. The fact that he enjoys the confidence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has added to his stature. With Mr Kwatra taking a backseat, the buzz in the ministry is that Mr Jaishankar has the final word on everything, including diplomatic postings.

When the Bihar government released the report of the state caste census and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi followed it up by making a strong pitch for a nationwide caste count, the Bharatiya Janata Party was decidedly cool to this proposition. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went as far as to say that efforts were on to unleash divisive forces. Signalling a change in BJP’s position, home minister Amit Shah recently remarked that they were not opposed to a caste census but would take a decision after extensive consultations. It is believed that the BJP was stung by Rahul Gandhi’s campaign and wished to send a message to the large OBC population in the poll-bound states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. This is ironic since caste census does not figure prominently in the ongoing election campaign. Even OBC candidates are not talking about it. They are instead highlighting local issues. It may still emerge as a key issue in next year’s Lok Sabha election but, for now, Rahul Gandhi’s focus on caste census could well go the Rafale way.