All eyes are on Ghulam Nabi Azad who is handling Congress’ election management in Assam and Tamil Nadu. Congress hopes Azad will repeat his Midas touch, an epithet he bagged for scripting a win in every state he headed, barring UP, despite a measly 5% vote base in Tamil Nadu and high anti-incumbency in Tarun Gogoi’s state. The Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha has outshone others as a deft poll manager and is credited with stitching an alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu. He is also acting as the party’s trouble-shooter. In fact, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has inducted him discreetly in the disciplinary committee headed by A.K. Antony.

‘Trinamool was stung at Congress behest’

The Narada sting done by a former Tehelka employee has upset the Trinamool Congress on the eve of the Assembly elections, especially when a CPM-Congress axis may fructify. The sting, which tarnishes the reputation of several TMC leaders, has left people wondering if this was the result of a fallout between Mamata Banerjee and Tehelka’s former owner, K.D. Singh, who was a Rajya Sabha member from the party. Word has it that the sting was done in 2014 at the behest of the Congress, which, however, kept it under the wraps as it did not want to push Mamata Banerjee into the arms of the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Now that the Congress has locked horns with the TMC, it has made the sting public in order to embarrass the incumbent party in poll-bound West Bengal. However, the happiest of the lot is the BJP. By referring the case to Parliament’s Ethics Committee headed by L.K. Advani, the party is going soft on the TMC, in the hope that Mamata would return the favour by supporting it in the Rajya Sabha, where it lacks the numbers.

Oscar loses his clout

Oscar Fernandes has lost his clout in the Congress after falling out of the high command’s favour. Brother Oscar, as he was called, is no longer an AICC general secretary. His 11 pm to 3 am durbars in the Congress headquarters have come to an end. In fact, no leader is allowed to remain at 24 Akbar Road after 10 pm. Thanks to his diminished stature, his recommendation letters to schools are not working.

From issuing 100 letters every day, recommending the admission of the wards of anybody who approached him, Fernandes now has to make personal calls to school principals to secure their favour. He does that in rare cases. “But people come back complaining that his letters do not work,” quipped one of his staff members.

Beni Verma unable to decide

Congress’ Beni Prasad Verma is having a tough time choosing between BJP, BSP and SP as he gets closer to exiting the Congress, which thinks the OBC leader has become a liability, courtesy his controversial remarks to the media. Beni Verma was inducted in the Congress in 2008 by Digvijaya Singh in the hope that as a Kurmi, he would get the party the state’s OBC votes. Verma was even made the Union Minister of Steel. Against the wishes of the party’s rank and file, he was also made a member of the Congress Working Committee. But he failed to deliver despite having his say in ticket distribution. The Congress did miserably in the 2012 Assembly elections in UP and then in the 2014 general elections. Verma’s candidates lost and he himself was humbled from Barabanki. With Rahul focusing on Dalits, Brahmins and Muslims, Verma wants to switch loyalties to Mulayam Singh Yadav. He is said to be bargaining for an Assembly ticket for his son and an MP berth for himself. But with Mayawati’s and BJP’s prospects seemingly better in poll-bound UP, Beni Verma is unable to decide which party to join.

Kishor wants former MPs to contest U.P. polls

Congress strategist Prashant Kishor is preparing an army of former UPA MPs and ministers to fight the Uttar Pradesh elections, where the party will contest all the 402 seats, but will focus on 150. Kishor is convinced that fielding senior leaders like Salman Khurshid, R.P.N. Singh, Jitin Prasada, Prakash Jaiswal, Pramod Tiwari, P.L. Punia and Rajiv Shukla will help the party gain some vigour. Khurshid, who wanted his wife to fight the polls instead of him, has been made to fall in line, indicating Kishor’s words are final. Kishor has also lashed out at P.L. Punia and Pramod Tiwari, who are known to be Mulayam Singh Yadav’s men in the Congress. He has asked the Congress to target the BJP, which is the party’s main rival at the Centre. He believes Congress will be able to slow down the SP and the BSP by hitting the BJP hard.


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