Two years ago when the Bharatiya Janata Party held its national executive meeting in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath was chosen to move the political resolution during the proceedings. He was the only chief minister who attended the meeting in person while the others joined via video conferencing. This was seen as a clear attempt by the BJP to enhance the Yogi’s profile in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh assembly and to underline that he would be leading the poll campaign. But now that the elections are over and the BJP has registered a convincing win in the state, the Yogi was just another face in the crowd at last week’s meeting of the BJP’s national executive. Union law minister Kiren Rijiju is clearly the flavour of the season for he was handpicked to table the all-important political resolution this time. Mr Rijiju is obviously being promoted as he is leading the government’s ongoing battle against the judiciary. The fact that several states in the Northeast are heading for elections was another reason for this honour to the young minister from Arunachal Pradesh.
Having hit the headlines for his controversial statements on the judiciary, Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar is simultaneously making efforts to reach out to the media. Over the past week, the Vice-President first met with a group of women journalists over tea and subsequently hosted a group of editors from all leading newspapers and magazines for dinner. Though his public pronouncements have generated a heated debate, Dhankhar took care not to raise any contentious issue during his conversations with the women journalists unlike his interaction with the editors. In fact, he made it clear that he could not give interviews to the media because of the constitutional position he holds. He kept the conversation personal, heaping high praise on his wife, Sudesh. On her part, Sudesh Dhankhar, who her husband proudly announced is a PhD holder, keeps a low profile and admits she is not interested in politics and that she has never campaigned for her husband. She is a good hostess, having personally cooked the delicious atta halwa served to the guests at the interaction with women journalists.
There was a time when media managers of chief ministers and ministers were upbraided by their bosses when their speeches and other programmes did not get adequate coverage in the media. But the media teams attached to chief ministers, especially of states where the BJP is in power, have to contend with a brand-new problem. They are regularly asked by their bosses to explain why and how Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Singh Mann is featured prominently in full-page advertisements in local newspapers, most often the first few pages which obviously grab a reader’s attention. Taking a cue from his boss, Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, Mr Mann has bought ad space in newspapers in states as far as Karnataka to showcase his fledgling government’s achievements. Chief ministers of these states are at their wit’s end to figure out why Mr Mann is splashed all over in newspapers of states which are far removed from Punjab. Mr Kejriwal had done the same in the run-up to the Punjab and Gujarat elections in order to sell the “Delhi model of governance” to voters in other states.
It is ironic that just as Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra was completing its foot march in Punjab, the party was hit by yet another high-profile defection. This time it was Punjab’s former finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal who quit the Congress and crossed over to the BJP. While Mr Badal’s exit is not a surprise given his tense relationship with Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, political circles fail to understand why so many senior Congress leaders are joining the BJP which has limited presence in the state even though the Aam Aadmi Party is currently a far more attractive alternative. One explanation is that these leaders want to hollow out the Congress in the state. Since both the Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal are in poor health, the long-term plan is to work towards a BJP vs AAP battle in Punjab. With the BJP making all-out efforts to expand its footprint here, the party calculates that it will be able to take on the AAP once the older parties are out of the picture, making way for a bipolar contest in the state.
West Bengal chief minister and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is learnt to be making serious plans to expand her national media presence. According to the grapevine, “friends” of the Trinamul Congress are in talks to purchase the Millennium Post, a Delhi-based daily. There is also talk that the Bartaman Patrika, a multi-edition newspaper published in West Bengal and known to be close to the Trinamul Congress, is planning to bring out a Hindi language newspaper which will gradually have editions across several cities in the Hindi-speaking states, especially Uttar Pradesh. However, it is not clear how this will boost Mamata Banerjee’s electoral prospects in states outside West Bengal where her party does not have a base or a strong organisation.