Both Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar have their birthdays in December. While Sonia’s was a low key celebration, Pawar’s 80th birthday saw half page advertisements in the national dailies felicitating his political journey. Interestingly, in the essay that accompanies the greetings, Praful Patel recounts the many times Pawar nearly became Prime Minister, beginning with 1991, when Narasimha Rao was propped up over Pawar’s candidature; and later in 1996, when the Congress won 145 MPs, the United Front leaders such as Deve Gowda, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Yadav had agreed to support a Congress government under Pawar’s prime ministership, but Narasimha Rao “didn’t flinch”. Later, when the Gowda government was brought down by Sitaram Kesri, this plan was revived again but didn’t get Kesri’s backing. Praful Patel also talks about how later when Sharad Pawar was the Congress parliamentary party leader his decisions were overrun by P.J. Kurien at the promptings of Sonia Gandhi. And so on. It’s interesting that this narrative has come to light at a time when the Congress is looking for a credible leadership to replace Sonia Gandhi and is also, for the first time, questioning the hold of the dynasty. In fact, the timing of Pranab Mukherjee’s memoirs, where he rues the fact that he was kept from becoming Prime Minister by the Gandhi family is also interesting. Will the Congress look to the past to make decisions about the future?
Last week saw the revival of an old story when the political rumour mill claimed that Sharad Pawar would replace Sonia Gandhi as the UPA chairperson. Certainly with Sonia Gandhi taking a step back, Pawar is the tallest leader in the UPA. But the NCP is not the largest party, and Pawar is well aware of this limitation. However, there is a certain disquiet amongst the UPA partners as to who will lead the opposition alliance against the BJP. Rahul Gandhi doesn’t seem to carry much clout, not as leader of the Congress and also not as a reliable ally. It’s not just the party’s drubbing in Bihar that pulled down the alliance, but Akhilesh Yadav also blames his alliance with the Congress for sabotaging his chances in the 2017 UP polls. Mamata Bannerjee is not keen to tie up with the Congress in West Bengal and it remains to be seen what kind of a bargain the DMK will strike with the Congress for the Tamil Nadu polls. Interestingly, it was Pawar who recently spoke to Rahul’s lack of consistency. And, therefore, while the Congress, and even the NCP has denied the rumours that Pawar will replace Sonia as the UPA chairperson, it hasn’t scotched the speculation. For as the Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut said on the subject: “Politics is unpredictable. You never know what will happen next.” While Congress leaders claim that the role of chairperson should be given to a member of the largest party in the coalition, they forget two things. One that the UPA is not a formal organisation with a hard and fast Constitution, but a loose coalition of like-minded parties. Second, as Rasheed Kidwai, author and political commentator points out, when the National Front was formed the chairmanship went to N.T. Ramarao, even though the TDP was not the largest party, the Janata Party was. The real question remains: did the NCP overplay its hand by going public with its plans?
The Himalayan Challenge
Dr Subramanian Swamy’s book Himalayan Challenge: India, China and the Quest for Peace, is now out. Dr Swamy’s link with China goes way back, and was one of the reasons why he was invited to China in 1981 by then Chairman Deng Xiaoping. At the end of a 100-minute meeting he persuaded the Chinese to open the Kailash Mansarovar route for Hindu pilgrims. This meeting is part of the annexures of Swamy’s book, as are extracts from a “Soviet document dated 2nd October 1959”, which Swamy accessed from the Woodrow Wilson Cold War Archives while at Harvard. The document records a meeting between Khrushchev and Mao Zedong, where both Nehru and Tibet come up for discussion between the two leaders. But what is interesting is that through this book Swamy takes a look at India’s China policy over the years, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi. Few know this, but Swamy is also fluent in Mandarin, a language he took up as a challenge from his wife, Roxna. In fact, during a NewsX interview, when asked to speak in Mandarin, he quoted a Chinese proverb which goes like this—beware of the foreigner who speaks Chinese as it’s such a difficult language that those who take the trouble of learning it would definitely have some agenda for doing so. As for Swamy’s agenda, he is hopeful for a long term relationship between the two countries which share a common Asian mindset but for now, he is of the firm view that we should push back the Chinese from our territory and not be misled by them as we were in 1962.
The late Ahmed Patel’s family has been given a notice by the Rajya Sabha Housing Committee to vacate his bungalow in Delhi, albeit with a grace period of six months, which the family is grateful for. Congress workers all recall Ahmed Bhai’s house at Mother Teresa Crescent as a house with many doors, for despite a waiting room full of visitors, you never knew who was entering or exiting the place. What Congress leaders however are asking is whether the late Ram Vilas Paswan’s family too has been served a similar notice. Or could it be that Narendra Modi’s ministerial reshuffle might accommodate Chirag Paswan in more ways than one?
What next for Kamal Nath?
Ahmed Patel leaves behind many a vacancy. Not just as party treasurer but more importantly what the party will miss is his role as a trouble shooter. While Rahul Gandhi would like to prop up someone from his own team, there are some who believe that none of them has the expertise and experience of a candidate from the Old Guard.
Ashok Gehlot’s name is doing the rounds but the Rajasthan Chief Minister has made it clear that he would rather stay on in the state. There is, however, another ex CM who is out of job and may fit the role of a trouble shooter, Kamal Nath for he has a good equation with almost all the UPA allies—from Pawar to the DMK, as well as others such as Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati. In fact, as general secretary of the party, Nath has handled several crucial states including West Bengal, Assam and Tamil Nadu, all three which are slated to go to the polls next year. In fact, the evergreen networker has kept a channel open with all the factions of the party and not just the Old Guard.
For instance, Nath was in Jaipur recently for a wedding and while one is not sure whether he met Gehlot, it was Sachin Pilot who came to see him off at the airport. So, Nath may have the right credentials for the job, there is also an opening in his CV that coincides with a vacancy at the party headquarters. But will he get the job? The answer to this question is not with Sonia Gandhi but with Rahul.