The programme began last November 19, when former President Pranab Mukherjee delivered a centenary lecture.
In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress was feeling confident as long as the Bharatiya Janata Party had not declared a chief ministerial candidate because it got an opportunity to taunt the saffron party that it did not have a face to project in the hill state. But now that BJP president Amit Shah has announced Prem Kumar Dhumal as its pick for the chief minister’s job, the Congress campaign has lost its bite. In fact, Congress leaders fear that Mr Shah’s statement could have ramifications not just in Himachal Pradesh but also in Gujarat, which is headed for polls in December. Now, the boot is on the other foot as it is the BJP’s turn to reproach the Congress to declare its chief ministerial candidate in Gujarat. The Congress finds itself on the backfoot here. Though the party has many state leaders like Bharatsinh Solanki, Tushar Chaudhary and Arjun Modhwadia, none of them can be described as mass leaders or crowd pullers. On the contrary, these leaders are a discredited bunch as Congress insiders confess that the electorate is tired of these old faces, which have been on the scene for over a decade and yet have failed to make any impact.
It is said that a man is known by the company he keeps. Likewise, the chief ministers are known by the advisers they appoint. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is a case in point. He has obviously not learnt any lessons from the late Congress leader Arjun Singh, who was reputed to pick the best bureaucrats as his staff members when he headed the Madhya Pradesh government. Mr Chouhan was recently in the news for his remark that the roads in his home state were far better than those in America. This video clip predictably went viral and Mr Chouhan was trolled mercilessly on social media. It transpires that the chief minister made these comments in the course of a lengthy closed-door meeting but the entourage of bureaucrats, which accompanied him, were in such a tearing hurry to release the details of this conversation to the media that it did not occur to them that they should edit this statement since it was bound to be ridiculed. On the other hand, they are learnt to have convinced the chief minister that he needn’t worry as he was on the right track. As a result, Mr Chouhan has continued to speak in the same vein even after his return from a US trip, pointing out proudly that Indore and Bhopal are far cleaner cities than New York and that Madhya Pradesh is far better than the US or England.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi had constituted a 21-member committee last year to draw up a series of events to mark the birth centenary of Indira Gandhi and several sub-groups were set up for specific activities connected with the programmes. The year-long celebrations are to conclude in a grand finale on November 19, for which the Congress is learnt to have booked the Talkatora Stadium.
In addition, there is talk of a massive public rally in Chikmangalur, Karnataka. However, several members of the Sonia Gandhi-appointed panels privately complain that they were not involved in planning the events and have no idea about what has been planned for November 19. In fact, some sub-groups did not hold even a single meeting as senior leaders, considered close to the Congress president, discussed the programmes directly with her. Congress leaders are also upset as they believe the party has not done sufficient justice to Indira Gandhi’s memory who deserved to be remembered with events befitting her stature. The programme began last November 19, when former President Pranab Mukherjee delivered a centenary lecture.
An exhibition of rare photographs was organised by the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust, but little is known about any other events which may have been planned by the party’s state units.
Though well-known in his home state, Karnataka minister D.K. Shivakumar was not a recognisable figure at the national level. However, he shot to fame last August when the income-tax conducted a series of raids on his properties. The tax raids were carried out at a time when 43 Gujarat MLAs were flown down to Mr Shivakumar’s resort near Bengaluru to stave off any defection from their ranks before the crucial Rajya Sabha poll. Now months later, Mr Shivakumar is on a public relations drive. He recently wrote personal letters to all Congress leaders thanking them for their support both “inside and outside Parliament” during the raids. Mr Shivakumar also expressed his gratitude to the party leadership for supporting a “local Congressman” at such a critical time and assured everyone that although he was under immense pressure he would never let the party down. Needless to say the letter has gone down well with his party colleagues and should help him score some brownie points with the Congress leadership.