Anita Katyal | Rahul shave made into a hairy affair; time for Cabinet reshuffle?

The Asian Age.  | Anita Katyal

Opinion, Columnists

The trip to Varanasi had to be called off due to unforeseen circumstances. So the beard stays for now, till an auspicious muhurat is found

File photo of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressing the closing ceremony of Bharat Jodo Yatra, at Sher-i-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar. (PTI Photo)

During the course of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, there was constant chatter either about his tee-shirt or the length of his overgrown beard. This even provoked Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to comment that Rahul Gandhi had begun to resemble Saddam Hussein. Now that his foot march is over, it was time to shave off his beard and go in for an image makeover. The Nehru-Gandhi scion wanted the shave to be a no-nonsense and private affair but since all eyes have been trained on Rahul Gandhi’s beard, several party leaders insisted that the act of shaving it off should be converted into an event. So in accordance with their wishes, it was decided that Rahul Gandhi would travel to Varanasi following his recent trip to Wayanad for a public shave. The idea was to use the occasion to send out a political message. But unfortunately, the trip to Varanasi had to be called off due to unforeseen circumstances. So the beard stays for now, till an auspicious muhurat is found.

After the recent appointment-cum-transfer of governors, talk about an imminent Cabinet reshuffle has resurfaced once again. Needless to say, Cabinet ministers are a jittery lot as no one knows who will be shown the door while those on the outside are hoping to get a shot at a ministerial berth. According to the current buzz, the changes are expected to reflect the Bharatiya Janata Party’s political focus on states like Bihar where it is minus an ally now and Telangana where it is hoping to emerge as the main challenger to the ruling party. There are murmurs that a backward class leader from Telangana could be accommodated in the Cabinet as the BJP aims to woo the backward classes in the Southern state. There is also intense speculation about a possible induction from Bihar. With former law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad being fielded by the party to launch an offensive against the Congress in general and Rahul Gandhi in particular, his possible return to the Cabinet is also a subject of discussion. Now that senior Rajasthan leader Gulab Chand Kataria has been appointed governor, rumour mills are working overtime about the identity of the party’s chief ministerial face in the year-end Rajasthan Assembly elections. Will it be Gajendra Singh Shekhawat? The answers are up in the air.

The feisty and articulate Meenakshi Lekhi, who got a ministerial berth in the external affairs ministry after a long wait, appears to be out in the cold. That she remains on the margins is evident from the fact that she is barely seen or heard in public. Take for instance, the ongoing World Hindi Conference in Fiji. It would be expected that Ms Lekhi would be involved in this event but she is learned to be totally out of the loop. She was not included in the Indian delegation which travelled to Fiji last week though she would have been an appropriate choice for such a programme. While Ms Lekhi failed to make the cut, her colleague in the same ministry V. Muraleedharan was among the Indian government representatives. Ajay Mishra Teni, minister of state in the home ministry, also accompanied the delegation as he is in charge of the Rajbhasha department. The conference was inaugurated by external affairs minister S. Jaishankar.
The Congress Party’s 85th plenary session being held in Raipur is less than 10 days away but there is still no official word on whether the promised internal elections will be held during the three-day proceedings. After the Congress was virtually forced to opt for a non-Gandhi in the last Presidential election, party leaders are hoping this process will be carried forward and elections to the Congress Working Committee will also be conducted. This has been the demand of the group of 23 leaders (G-23) who had written a letter to former Congress president Sonia Gandhi pressing for organisational elections. Though there is no clarity on this issue, it is learnt the party’s state units have been asked to prune the list of delegates who are eligible to vote. It is suspected that this exercise is being conducted to ensure that handpicked leaders are included in this coveted list. According to Congress insiders, if these elections are held, Rahul Gandhi may opt for the election route although as former party president, he will be automatically nominated to the working committee.

With its internal surveys showing that its performance is likely to be below par in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party is working overtime to ensure that it remains in the reckoning. The party’s poll strategists are said to have suggested that they identify their most popular candidates who are capable of winning on their own steam and ask them to contest from a new constituency while giving them a free hand in picking a candidate of their choice from their home turf. While this can help the BJP up its numbers, it is also proposed that these candidates be pitted against senior Congress leaders like D.K. Shivakumar to tie them down to their respective constituencies.