Series of missed calls

How many meetings and calls will Rahul Gandhi miss? We were recently told how Rahul’s college friend Jyotiraditya Scindia left the Congress but not before he tried to reach out to Rahul, who didn’t meet him. Rahul, however, denies this, pointing out that Scindia was an old college friend and perhaps the only one who could walk into his room without an appointment. Be that as it may, there are others who didn’t have this privilege and simply had to wait it out. Or else walked out. This week, in an exclusive interview to NewsX, former Congress leader Natwar Singh pointed out even the late Sheila Dikshit had to wait for days before being granted a meeting with Rahul Gandhi. And when he finally met her he barely gave her a hearing. Something similar happened with Himanta Biswa Sarma, who eventually quit the party. Then there was the self goal in Goa (in March 2017) when the Congress lost the government, even though it had the single largest seats. As the story goes, well before the results were out, Vijay Sardesai of the Goa Forward Party was in Delhi with an appointment to meet Rahul at the Congress’ war room at Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Road. He reached the venue to find that the then Congress VP was running late and walked across to NCP leader Praful Patel’s house nearby, where he waited for almost four hours for Rahul, who did not turn up. His helpful host even dialled Digvijaya Singh, who was the then Goa in-charge, but there was no response. The Congress lost that government because, well, the BJP was just sharper on the draw. Sometimes, all it takes is to keep your appointments. And engage.

Sharad Pawar’s Offer

While filing his nomination for the Rajya Sabha, NCP leader Sharad Pawar was asked if he was in charge of the Madhya Pradesh crisis, could he have fixed it? To which Pawar quipped, “Why are you giving me charge of only Madhya Pradesh, why not the entire country?” Well, Pawar may have spoken half in jest but there are those within the Opposition who are thinking just that. Given the fact that Rahul Gandhi is yet to step up to the job in front of him, wouldn’t it make sense to outsource that job to Pawar? For if there is one man who can bring back all the leaders who have deserted the Congress back to the party and make it a formidable force once again, it is Sharad Pawar. But Sonia Gandhi will never issue that invite for she knows all too well that Pawar is no Manmohan Singh.

Cabinet re-jig on the cards?

Well placed sources claim that in addition to a Rajya Sabha seat, Jyotiraditya Scindia has also been promised a Cabinet berth and most probably in one of the economic ministries. Given that, will the PM do a comprehensive Cabinet re-jig or simply accommodate Scindia? According to sources, Narendra Modi is happier working with technocrats than politicians—from S. Jaishankar to Hardeep Puri to Ajit Doval. So will we see some more bureaucrats and some domain specialists making their way to the Council of Ministers? Certainly one of the arguments against the Modi government is that it lacks talent and is lagging behind on delivering on the governance story.

Rajya Sabha for Hooda junior 

It’s interesting to see Deepender Hooda’s name on the list of Rajya Sabha nominees from the Congress. Just last week, we had pointed out in Cool Breeze that the Hoodas would not take it lying down if Kumari Selja, a Sonia Gandhi favourite would be re-nominated. It is also true that the Hoodas control a large chunk (if not the entire bloc) of Congress MLAs from the state. Whether it was Jyotiraditya Scindia’s rebellion that did the trick or some pragmatism has dawned on the Congress leadership not to take the Hoodas for granted, Deepender gets his Rajya Sabha (his father, Hooda Sr is happier at the state level where he still fancies a shot at being Chief Minister again, sooner rather than later, but that’s another story).

A Maharaja in the Chaiwala’s Party

There is a section of the Jai Vilas Palace in Gwalior that is open to the public. On display are at the Durbar Hall a pair of Venetian Chandeliers that weigh around 3.5 tonnes and it is said that as many of eight elephants were made to walk on the roof before they were hung. In similar style, one could say Jyotiraditya Scindia first paraded his rebel MLAs before he displayed his ambition to negotiate with the BJP. Of course, being a Maharaja in Modi’s party could have its drawbacks; is that why at his very first media interaction in Bhopal, Scindia pointed out that both he and Shivraj Chouhan were the only ones who travelled without an AC in their car? (Incidentally, during the Madhya Pradesh elections, when NewsX did a campaign trail with him, he had the windows down. Of course, what he does in the Delhi heat could be another story).

Rajya Sabha Quotas

Well, for all Rahul Gandhi’s talk of not being given a free hand within the party, he has been given some elbow room in the recent Rajya Sabha nominations. The nominations of K.C. Venugopal, Shakti Sinh Govil, Rajeev Satav are from his quota, while to Priyanka’s lot falls K.T.S. Tulsi (he is Robert Vadra’s lawyer) and Rajeev Shukla. For some inexplicable reason, Shukla did not file his nomination, though he was initially given the go-ahead from Gujarat. His tweet, where he thanked Sonia Gandhi for his nomination but added that he had requested her to nominate someone else, “as I am focusing on organisational work” raised more questions than it answered. One casualty is Randeep Surjewala, who very bravely told the media (while commenting on the Scindia case) that while it was okay to aspire for a Rajya Sabha seat, but if you didn’t get it you should abide by Rahul and Priyankaji’s decision, for the party was bigger than an individual’s ambition. Who says a spokesperson’s job is an easy one?

Political break-ups

The Gandhi family has seen many friendships fall by the wayside (rather tellingly, most of the break-ups happen when they are out of power) but the Jyotiraditya Scindia-Rahul Gandhi equation is being compared to the Rajiv Gandhi-Amitabh Bachchan break-up because even there the equations extended beyond the political and over two generations. And though Amitabh parted ways with the Gandhi family, he never spoke about the Gandhis on a public forum (initially Amar Singh did that job for him). Here too while Scindia himself has not targeted the Gandhis directly apart from his comments that “the Congress is living in denial and it’s not the same party that it used to be”. It was his cousin Pradyot Deb Burman who told the media that Scindia tried to meet Rahul but got no reply. When asked to comment on this, Rahul remarked that Scindia had put his ideology in his pocket and joined the BJP because he saw no future in the Congress. This apparently has not gone down well with the Scindia camp who point out that Scindia made no personal attack on his friend turned ex colleague. But everyone is waiting for Scindia’s maiden speech in Parliament when he will face his erstwhile colleagues across the aisle, some of whom he has a very social equation with, such as Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Anand Sharma.