Speculation has begun on who will be President after Pranab Mukherjee’s term gets over a year and half later. Considering no President got a second term after Dr Rajendra Prasad in the 1950s, it is not expected that President Mukherjee will get another term. The buzz is that L.K. Advani and Najma Heptullah are among the contenders for the post from the BJP. Heptullah’s candidature for the highest post makes sense. Besides being a Muslim, she has strong connections with the Arab world, which will add to the NDA government’s Middle East policy.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal is also in the fray, as also the Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, who has friends across party lines. But with his political clout taking a beating in the last couple of years, the Maratha strongman has no choice but to rely on the BJP if he is to be in the race to Rashtrapati Bhawan. Pawar’s invitation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other leaders for his 75th birthday party last month was construed as yet another evidence of his political ambitions. Right from Chandrasekhar’s era, Badal’s name has been on the list of hopefuls.

Vice President Hamid Ansari is trying his best to keep the government in good humour, but sources in the BJP say that the fact that he was initially the choice of the Communists will rule him out of the race. Advani may find the going tough.

There is some talk also about an “outsider” being made President. If rumours are to be believed, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan may turn out to be that “outsider”, as he will get support across party lines, except from the Congress.

Jaya not bending on GST

There are indications that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK will not have an alliance with the BJP ahead of the Assembly elections in the state this year. Amma has been rebuffing several senior Central ministers who had visited Chennai to meet her.

The AIADMK, which, like the Congress, is opposed to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill in its present form, is refusing to toe the Central government line on the matter.

Three aspirants to SEBI post

At least three top contenders are in the race to replace U.K. Sinha, current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), whose term will end on 16 March.

While Thomas Mathew, additional secretary to President Pranab Mukherjee, is believed to be lobbying hard for the post, State Bank of India chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya is seen as a preferred choice of the Ministry of Finance. Ramesh Abhishek, former chairman of the Forward Markets Commission, is also seen as a serious candidate.

U.P. bypolls a test for Congress

The upcoming byelections in Uttar Pradesh on 13 February for three Assembly seats will prove to be a curtain-raiser for the Congress party before the Assembly elections in the state later this year. The three seats, Bikapur in Faizabad, Deoband and Muzaffarnagar, are the strongholds of three influential leaders of the Congress in the state, namely, Pradesh Congress Committee chief Nirmal Khatri, MLC Naseeb Pathan, and Pankaj Malik, zonal in-charge of the Congress in western UP. If Congress wins these seats, the party will be able to face the “real test” of the Assembly elections with confidence under Rahul Gandhi. A loss will demoralise the party cadre. The fate of Madhusudan Mistry, the party general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, will also depend upon these crucial bypolls.

Foreign lawyers may operate here soon

The embargo on foreign lawyers to practice in India may soon go with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley supporting “limited practice” by foreign lawyers in India.

Jaitley’s support for foreign lawyers to “provide legal advice on non-Indian laws” came in the course of the 8th UK-India Economic and Financial Dialogue, which he held with his British counterpart, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

The move may, however, be opposed by certain Indian law firms. It will be interesting to see how the government tackles the situation.

Kejriwal feels sorrow, selectively

Political opportunism seems to have guided Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to give Rs 2 lakh each to the families of two security personnel killed in the terror attack in Pathankot, as well as the taxi driver who was killed by the terrorists a day before the attack.

It is certainly no coincidence that all three belonged to Punjab, a state which is going to the polls next year, and where Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party hopes to be a major player. While Defence Services Corps personnel Subedar Major Fateh Singh and Havildar Kulwant Singh belonged to Jhanda Gujjran and Chak Sharif villages in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district, taxi driver Ikagar Singh belonged to Bhagwal village in Pathankot. The Delhi Chief Minister did not announce any money for the families of the rest of those martyred.


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