Anita Katyal | Will Vadra stand from Wayanad? Raje targeted by Pilot to aid BJP?

The Asian Age.  | Anita Katyal

Opinion, Columnists

Priyanka Gandhi has stepped up her public appearances since Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with his sister and the party’s general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh. (PTI/ File Photo)

Is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra preparing to join the electoral race? Is she being projected as the Congress Party’s chief campaigner? Will she contest from Wayanad if Rahul Gandhi’s court case is not settled soon? These are some of the issues being hotly debated in the Congress as Priyanka Gandhi has stepped up her public appearances since Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha. She is more visible and vocal these days. Priyanka accompanied Rahul Gandhi to Surat when he went to file his appeal against his conviction and was with him when he visited Wayanad for the first time after his disqualification. Last week she addressed the party’s “Bharose ka Sammelan” in Chhattisgarh which will be followed by several such rallies and meetings in the coming months. Priyanka Gandhi’s increased public exposure is part of the Congress strategy to use her oratorical skills for its election campaigns. At the same time, Congress leaders from the Southern states want Priyanka Gandhi to contest from Wayanad if the Election Commission notifies the by-election soon. 

When rebel Congress leader Sachin Pilot demanded that corruption charges against the previous Vasundhara Raje-led government be probed expeditiously, it was clear his real target was his bete noire, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot. However, questions are being asked about why Mr Pilot is focussing on the old corruption cases against Ms Raje but is silent on Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat”s role in the more recent Sanjeevani Credit Cooperative Society scam. This issue is in the news as Mr Shekhawat recently got interim relief from the Rajasthan high court which also stayed his arrest. The buzz in Jaipur is that Mr Pilot’s campaign against Ms Raje is also aimed at helping the BJP. It is no secret the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership wants to clip Ms Raje’s wings and promote new chief ministerial candidates in the desert state. Mr Shekhawat figures in this list. However, it has not succeeded in this mission as Ms Raje remains popular with the people and enjoys good support from party MLAs. The BJP hopes to use Mr Pilot’s campaign to contain Ms Raje.

Though  Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav's meeting with Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi to unite like-minded Opposition parties in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections eventually made some headway, it seemed at one point that the discussions would be a nonstarter. It is learned that Nitish Kumar did most of the talking as he impressed upon the Congress leaders the importance of Opposition unity. Rahul Gandhi apparently made no contribution to the discussion. Instead he sat quietly, lost in thought. Worried that the talks would break down, the others, including Mr Kharge, kept the conversation going. When he did snap out of his reverie, Rahul Gandhi struck a philosophical note instead of focusing on the nitty-gritty of bringing together the disparate Opposition parties. He asked rhetorically the purpose of this exercise, stating that Mr Modi is not the BJP. The BJP, he remarked, is a state of mind. It was left to Nitish Kumar to steer the discussion to more practical matters. He repeatedly told Rahul Gandhi that the Congress would be the biggest beneficiary of the proposed unity moves or else it would be advantage BJP. It was only after this that Rahul Gandhi warmed up and participated enthusiastically in the discussion.

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach to the Christian community, he is now said to do the same with the Muslims as part of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign titled “Modi Mitr”. It is perhaps for this reason that the party denied a ticket to its Udupi MLA Raghupathi Bhat who was responsible for escalating the controversy on the hijab issue. The decision on Mr Bhat is meant to send out a message that the BJP, particularly the Prime Minister, does not take kindly to hatemongers. However, BJP insiders maintain that Mr Bhat had been axed because he is well-recognised in the state and associated with raising the hijab issue. They said there are several others on the list who have made far more vile speeches and have been involved in stoking communal tensions. But they have managed to get tickets because they are not so well-known. It would appear denying Mr Bhat a ticket is nothing more than a token gesture.

Politics is truly a game but sometimes it can throw up unlikely teammates. Though Trinamul Congress had dismissed the calls made by the Congress for Opposition unity, its attitude changed after Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha. More recently, there was what can best be described as a friendly match between the two sides. And the players were former football player and Trinamul Congress MP Prasun Banerji and Rahul Gandhi. During the course of a meeting, the two had a long chat about football with the Congress leader asking for tips on the game. Mr Banerji, it is said, was happy to oblige. Rahul is a keen football player but admitted he has stopped playing due to paucity of time. Congress leaders were left wondering if this bonhomie would lead to a friendly match between the Trinamul and the Congress in West Bengal. The Congress is currently in alliance with the Left parties which are ranged against the Trinamul Congress. West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary, a known Mamata Banerji-baiter, would also not be happy with this. For him it will be akin to a self-goal.