Rahul, Akhilesh and Wild Asses

PR Ramesh is Managing Editor of Open
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Shah takes a call on Himachal | Sex and the Congress | Kapil Sibal's backflip on poll symbols | A pyrrhic Congress gain

Logically speaking, wild asses shouldn’t have dragged SP leader and former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, especially not after Yadav’s infamous “Gujarat ke gadhey” jibe at the BJP’s power duo of Modi and party president Amit Shah, both Gujaratis and key campaigners in the UP Assembly polls. Ostensibly, the reference was to a Gujarat Tourism ad showcasing the state’s elegant native species, the wild ass, in its natural habitat. As things turned out, the BJP swept the state, routing Yadav’s party, and the young leader’s wisecrack will haunt him as he campaigns for the SP in the five constituencies it is contesting in Gujarat, due for polls in December. Among videos going viral is the clip of his wild ass comment, where he claimed that Gujarat was the only state that celebrated donkeys, except that this modified version stars him and his UP-ally Rahul Gandhi as examples. The asinine species at the centre of this trade of insults is famous for its strong hind leg kick, and as the popularity of the video shows, it is the two young scions who must watch out.

Shah takes a call on Himachal

Shah takes a call on Himachal

When Amit Shah decided to finally name PK Dhumal as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate for Himachal Pradesh in October, it wasn’t just because of the popularity of the 73-year-old who had headed the state twice before. “The BJP is going to fight the HP Assembly polls under the leadership of Prem Kumar Dhumal,” Shah had announced at a rally in Kangra, saying he would soon be Chief Minister again. Till that point, the party had kept everyone guessing who its candidate was, and Shah was seen to be leaning towards Union Health Minister JP Nadda, a Himachali favoured by many BJP leaders in Delhi for the post. However, Shah stopped himself from taking any hasty decision. The Congress was spreading rumours across the hill state that Nadda’s ascent in Shimla would mean the end of Thakur rule. Nadda is a Brahmin, a member of a far smaller group. Thakurs comprise a vast chunk of the state’s voters and the Congress whisper campaign was designed to consolidate them behind its Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. Shah did not want to take the risk of such a phenomenon and Dhumal tweeted his thanks to Shah and Prime Minister Modi: ‘The people of Himachal will elect a new BJP government and we will together chart a new course in development for the state.’

Sex and the Congress

The Congress seems keen on shooting itself in the foot in Karnataka, one of the few states it retains, and handing the advantage to the BJP in next year’s Assembly election. KC Venugopal, the Congress general secretary in charge of the state, is accused of involvement in a sex scandal related to Kerala’s solar scam. Instead of of focusing on poll preparations, the party is fending off suggestions that Venugopal, whose name figured in the letter written by the accused, Saritha Nair, and was part of the Justice G Sivarajan panel report tabled in the Kerala Assembly recently, is a tainted leader. Karnataka Congress chief G Parameshwara said Venugopal had already denied the charge in this four-and-a-half-year- old case. “This is clearly a political gimmick by the BJP,” he said, adding the report itself had been questioned and Nair had not raised the issue after the Kerala HC rejected her demand for a CBI probe. The Sivarajan Commission has indicted former Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy along with his staff in the multi-crore solar panel scam for having ‘assisted’ Nair in ‘cheating’ customers. Leaders of the Karnataka Congress are understandably irked that the shadow of this scam should fall on their poll chances because the party’s Central leadership has backed Venugopal so strongly.

Kapil Sibal's backflip on poll symbols

Kapil Sibal's backflip on poll symbolsWhile arguing for the bicycle poll symbol of the Samajwadi Party to be given to Akhilesh Yadav’s faction before the Election Commission (EC) prior to the UP Assembly election, the Congressman lawyer Kapil Sibal had cited a 1971 Supreme Court directive in the Sadiq Ali vs Election Commission of India case. Now, the same Sibal is arguing that this precedent cannot be the basis for denying the Janata Dal-United’s poll symbol to Sharad Yadav’s rump faction. The 1971 order on Sadiq Ali, who succeeded Nijalingappa as president of the Congress-O after Indira Gandhi split the party, was based on a test of numerical strength to ascertain majority support in both its legislative and organisational wings. The court upheld the validity of Section 15 of the Representation of People Act, 1951, that authorises the EC to decide on such disputes. In case of a split, the EC checks the support of each claimant among the party’s lawmakers and also officials, delegates and members of its apex body, which is done after examining its constitution and pre-split list of office bearers. It may consider affidavits filed by members specifying their allegience. With these guidelines so clear, it is curious that Sibal has rubbished the 1971 directive. The entire legislature wing and virtually every leader of the JD-U is with Nitish Kumar. The Bihar Chief Minister’s lawyer, Rakesh Dwivedi, told Sibal during the hearing, “Only a few days ago, it was in this very room that you, Mr Sibal, said the SP poll symbol should go to the Akhilesh Yadav faction based on the Sadiq Ali case directive since that was the only and soundest yardstick by law to decide which faction should be alloted the symbol. Now you are arguing the very opposite.” Emerson once called consistency ‘the virtue of an ass.’ Looks like Sibal may just have proved the contrary, at least in this case.

A pyrrhic Congress gain

A pyrrhic Congress gainThe Congress ‘gain’ of Alpesh Thakur, whose demand for the Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister’s chair as a price to support the BJP was rejected by Amit Shah, may well prove a windfall at the ballot box for the ruling party. An OBC leader, Thakur shared a stage with Rahul Gandhi recently and threw his weight behind the Congress, which celebrated this with much fanfare. But this may prove to be a millstone around the Congress neck. Thakur, now a star campaigner for it, is like a red rag to a clutch of other OBC leaders within the party, including Arjun Modvadia, Satish Gohil and Bharatsinh Solanki, since, unlike them, he has the ear of Rahul Gandhi. Thakur is also the reason the BJP is laughing all the way to the ballot box, since the Congress ‘gain’ is already proving positive for the saffron party. Shah knew that Thakur’s presence could put off a part of its Patidar support base, driving some of them towards Hardik Patel. The BJP, which maintains that Patel has been propped up covertly by the Congress, has not given any quarter to either leader, and there are signs it is set to reap the rewards of it while the Grand Old Party suffers OBC-Patel dissension.