Monday, August 31, 2009

Snippets / Mail Today, August 31, 2009

REAMS of newsprint have been wasted on the faction feud in the BJP but there is a potentially explosive internal battle going on in the Congress over its alliance with the NCP for the Maharashtra assembly elections.

Senior Congress leaders are taking the cue from Rahul Gandhi's mantra of ‘ freedom from prickly allies’. Party general secretary Digvijay Singh who is in charge of Maharashtra has joined former CM Vilasrao Deshmukh in pushing the “ go- it- alone” policy, with support from Prithviraj Chavan. Pitted against the troika are chief minister Ashok Chavan, union power minister Sushil Shinde and the local Congress leadership who fear a strong anti- incumbency factor because of the drought and price rise.

True, they led in over 100 assembly segments in the Lok Sabha elections, but that was because Raj Thackeray played spoiler. With a Cong- NCP alliance in place, victory may not be so difficult; without, it may. The Congress leaders are counting their chickens before the eggs hatch, with old timers being comfortable with the idea of Ashok Chavan consolidating his leadership after the elections.

Like his illustrious father SB Chavan, Ashok is not acceptable to Sharad Pawar who ignores the fact that if the alliance loses, he will be diminished more than Ashok who has time on his side. Yet another instance of individual ambitions overrunning logic and the accepted order.

Rahul's southern strategy is unfolding

AWAY from the headlines, Rahul Gandhi is carrying on with the business of resurrecting the Congress. Rahul’s contribution to the Congress’s surprisingly good performance in the last elections can never be overstated; it was he who took the pivotal decision for the party to go it alone in Uttar Pradesh. The young man’s strategy paid rich dividends as the Grand Old Party picked up 20 seats. The last time it had double figures in the state was a quarter century ago when Rajiv’s Congress swept all 85 seats. Now Rahul is turning his attention south of the Vindhyas to the only state in the entire country where the Congress hasn’t tasted power for over four decades — Tamil Nadu. The last Congress government in the state bowed out in 1967 and since then the state has been alternately ruled by the DMK and its offshoots. Though the DMK is a loyal ally, Rahul doesn’t think that the ties will remain cosy once patriarch M Karunanidhi moves on. He has drawn up long- term plans not just to revive the party but to nurture young leaders. In the last few weeks, the Youth Congress had a membership enrolment drive and over 2.5 lakh young men and women are said to have joined. The swelling of the IYC ranks was in some measure helped by the young Tamil actor Vijay whom Rahul tapped using the services of a cabinet minister belonging to the state. The actor met Rahul in Delhi. The meeting was followed by a subtle endorsement from the actor. The membership drive now complete, elections for office- bearers are to be held next month and Rahul has appointed KJ Rao, a retired officer of the Central Election Commission, as the returning officer for these polls. By holding these elections, the message Rahul seeks to convey to Tamil youth is this: the DMK and the AIADMK have nothing to offer you since they are controlled by either dynasties, as in the case of the former, or autocrats like Jayalalithaa. The winners of this inner party democratic exercise will in all likelihood form the Congress A- team that will lead the party in the next assembly elections that are due in 2011. Or even earlier, if the Congress shows signs of quick revival and the DMK, as is expected, is felled by contradictions within the ruling family.

PM rues Karuna’s errant son
MANMOHAN Singh is no politician, but he must be thrilled to bits with Rahul Gandhi’s plans for the rejuvenation of the Congress. Having had hegemony over power for decades, the Congress is now forced to share it but there exists an instinctive distrust of allies. Some time back, I had in these columns written of the PM’s frustration with files piling up on the intrays of the DMK ministers who are seen to spend more time in Chennai than in their ministerial chambers. M. Karunanidhi’s problem child, the 64 year old M. K. Alagiri, is also the errant minister in the Manmohan cabinet.

Even his staff doesn’t seem to have an idea of his whereabouts and when around, he kicks up controversy. He appointed an IG rank officer as his Officer on Special Duty in violation of central guidelines which state that officers of the rank of Joint Secretary and above cannot serve as personal staff. The appointment has since been cancelled by the PMO. For the last few weeks, the prime minister and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who also heads a GoM on the fertiliser subsidy policy, have been waiting in vain for Alagiri, the minister for fertilisers, to initiate a note on the matter of fertiliser subsidy. Elections are due in a few months in Haryana and Maharashtra, both states where farmers form a huge chunk of voters.

But the note wasn’t forthcoming because Alagiri’s whereabouts were not known. The prime minister is said to have been so livid that he hinted that a junior minister be asked to forward the note or alternately, fertiliser secretary Atul Chaturvedi initiate and forward the note to the cabinet secretariat for consideration by the GoM and the union cabinet.

Alagiri may be missing in action much of the time but I think he leaves behind spooks. The note was being readied by the secretary when the minister got wind of the news and he took the next flight out of Chennai to Delhi to append his signature. There should be a lesson in this for all ministers taking their duties lightly.

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