The curious case of Jitin Prasada
The news that Congress leader and a former Union Minister Jitin Prasada could join the BJP was released by the BJP itself, with the Congress taking its time to issue a categorical denial (Jitin’s good friend and head of Congress media cell, Randeep Surjewala called it “bul***it”). Reports from Lucknow however indicated that Jitin was unhappy with the ticket distribution to his supporters as well as with the suggestion that he exchange Dhaurahara, the constituency that he had been nurturing and instead contest from Lucknow, which is a BJP bastion. Party president Rahul Gandhi, who was to hold a press conference that day cancelled it, knowing well that the question of Jitin Prasads would dominate the proceedings. However, after the party high command reached out to him, as did Jyotiraditya Scindia, the general secretary in charge of Western UP, not to mention colleagues such as Sandeep Dikshit, Jitin is said to have changed his mind. This sent a sigh of relief down at the party HQ for had he defected he would have been the first from Team Rahul to do so and this would have sent out all the wrong optics..
What about Varun?
Interestingly, if the Congress is looking for a candidate to take on Rajnath Singh and wrest Lucknow from the BJP, maybe it should look closer home—at the Gandhi cousin. Varun Gandhi has been working hard to create a brand of goodwill for himself—and not for the party that is seen to be sidelining him. He would only be too capable to take on a high prestige fight. But first, Varun would have to join the Congress and that is a big decision for him to make.
The Priyanka boat-show
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s three-day boat-show in Eastern UP managed to win back the headlines for the Congress. A sizeable crowd too turned up to hear this charismatic scion, and unlike her brother, her speeches varied at every stump. She did not repeat her speech, but tailor made her talk to suit the constituency she was addressing. And contrary to the perception she would be reaching out to the upper caste vote bank that had been neglected by the Congress, she reached out to the OBCs and to the fishermen in particular, telling them if the Congress came back it would have a ministry just for them. When a journalist pointed out that Amit Shah had stated that she was largely absent from the electoral battlefield, she laughed and said, “I have not been to visit my grandmother in Italy for a while now. Maybe I should plan a visit soon.” This is true to her style: take the confrontation head on and not shy away from it as she did when she insisted that Vadra be added to her nameplate at the party headquarters. Her entry has definitely energised the Congress and even some in the BJP camp now concede that the Congress has a chance in Kushinagar, Dhaurahara, Unnao, Saharanpur and Barabanki, in addition to Amethi and Rae Bareli.
Long Live ABV
Not only is Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s potrait to be seen at the BJP party office, but even a snapshot of him can be seen also at the SP office amongst a collage of Akhilesh Yadav’s pictures. There is one of Vajpayee blessing both Akhilesh and Dimple at their wedding, for the two got married when he was the PM. Some legends are there to stay.
Despite all the pro BJP sentiment post the Balakot airstrike, Akhilesh Yadav is fairly confident of the Mahagathbandan doing well. The strategy seems to be to make this a Mandal vs Kammandal battle and turn the battle into Pachchasi (85%) vs Pandrah (15%). As he told NewsX in an interview, the chowkidar is just a slogan, like the chaiwala. And chai doodh ke bina nahin banti (tea cannot be made without milk). Clearly hinting on the role of Yadavs as doodhwalas. Well, let’s see if Akhilesh gets to play his role as kingmaker—or queenmaker—or not.
Modi’s second seat?
Now that the BJP has announced the candidature of Sambit Patra from Puri (Odisha), speculation is rife as to which will be Narendra Modi’s second constituency. Initially, Modi was tipped to contest from Puri as well as Varanasi, but changed his mind in order not to antagonise Navin Patnaik, for the BJP may need the BJD support in case the numbers fall short. Now the buzz is that instead the PM may contest from Bangalore South, the constituency that was the stronghold of the late Ananth Kumar, who had won this seat six times since 1996. It is considered a “safe” seat for the BJP. Earlier the plan was to give the seat to Ananth Kumar’s widow, Tejaswini, but her name was not announced in the party’s first list. The candidate for Bangalore South is yet to be announced, leaving the speculation wide open. Will Modi choose this seat to make his debut from the South?
Trending Mani Shankar Aiyar
Interestingly on the day that Sam Pitroda made his controversial comments on the Balakot airstrike, leaving the Congress red faced, an interesting hashtag was trending on social media. It was not Pitroda but #ManiShankarAiyar, for the common analysis was that Pitroda had done an Aiyar in making a political gaffe on election eve. Which is certainly not fair to Mani, who has not made any political statement since the Gujarat elections last year.
On the ground
Heard at the famous Sharma-ji tea stall in Lucknow: the BJP may not have enough voices speaking, but the Congress has too many Aiyars and Nayyars scoring self goals.