Inside Track: Modi's choices
With the appointment of Om Birla as Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the top three posts in the country, President, Prime Minister and Speaker, are held by men who use Hindi as the lingua franca. They come from diverse castes, Dalit, OBC and Bania, and humble backgrounds. As with Ram Nath Kovind, Modi did not opt for a conventional choice, surprising everyone, including the person selected. Modi does not go by the traditional logic of job suitability. More than language skills and parliamentary experience, Birla was rewarded for outstanding social work and public service in his constituency. Incidentally, Birla along with two other Rajasthan ministers in Modi’s Cabinet, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Arjun Ram Meghwal, are part of the anti-Vasundhara Raje camp, indicating that the former CM is out of favour.
The selection of Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha has taken many party MPs by surprise. Chowdhury, a five-time MP from West Bengal, is a doughty street fighter with several criminal cases against him. He does not have either the oratory or familiarity of the parliamentary rule book possessed by more obvious contenders for the post such as Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor or K Suresh. An added disadvantage is that floor coordination with the Trinamool will be awkward. In the last Parliament session, Chowdhury had infuriated Mamata Banerjee by alluding to her name in the Saradha scam. One surmise for the surprising choice is that Sonia Gandhi’s advisers who recommended his name did not want to prop up anyone who would pose a threat to them. Another speculation is that the Congress assumes that, as in the last Parliament session, there will be little room for meaningful debate and discussion. The only way to grab attention will be through disruptive behaviour and adjournments, something that Chowdhury is familiar with.
The Capital’s media has focused on the victories of first-time actress MPs Sumalatha Amarnath from Karnataka and Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jehan from West Bengal. But one spectacular win has been largely ignored. Outspoken Dalit actress Navneet Kaur, standing as an Independent from Amravati in Maharashtra, defeated five-time Shiv Sena MP Anandrao Adsul, despite the Modi wave in the state. Navneet, a Punjabi, has starred in Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi, Tamil and Hindi films, but never in a Marathi movie.
Next stop, Raebareli
Smriti Irani received a huge applause when she took her oath as MP. The feisty minister is not content to rest on her laurels. The giant killer wants to ensure that the BJP wins Raebareli in 2024. She hopes that her party will permit her to offer advise as how to go about storming Sonia Gandhi’s citadel, which neighbours Amethi. Irani was perceived by the voters of Amethi as a helpful big sister, with none of the noblesse oblige airs of the Gandhis. Leaving nothing to chance, Irani even sent across a few Trojan horses to lull the Congress camp into a false sense of complacency.
Akhilesh Yadav has taken his party’s defeat with equanimity, unlike most defeated party leaders who kept away from Parliament’s Central Hall for the first few days. A good natured Yadav answered all the queries posed to him by journalists. Asked about his wife Dimple’s defeat from Kannauj, he joked that, in a way, it was a blessing since someone needed to stay home and take care of his mischievous son. Besides, Dimple can now resume work on a delayed project – opening her Hibiscus Hotel in UP.
Ace up its sleeve
The Gujarat Congress has gone to court over the Election Commission’s decision that elections to the two Rajya Sabha seats, where vacancies have arisen due to the resignations of Amit Shah and Smriti Irani, should be held separately and not as one election. In a simultaneous poll for the two Gujarat vacancies, the Congress stands to win one RS seat since the electoral system provides each MLA with a single first-preference vote. However, if elections are held separately, then the BJP, which has a majority over the Congress, can walk away with both seats. The BJP is certain that past legal precedents in filling such vacancies is on its side. But it is extra confident since it has an additional ace up its sleeve. The two vacancies from Gujarat did not occur on the same day. Shah resigned his Rajya Sabha seat on May 23 after winning from Gandhinagar, Irani on May 24 because her victory from the Amethi was confirmed only the next day.