Monday, February 13, 2012

In Mahatma’s name

Coomi Kapoor :

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wants to imitate Mayawati in her penchant for constructing grandiose theme parks. However, instead of Mayawati-style parks filled with elephants and Dalit icons, Modi plans to set up a Mahatma Mandir park in Gandhinagar. Initially, the idea was to have 365 statues of the Mahatma, but it was scaled down to 52 statues representing each week of the year. The park’s budget is estimated to be around Rs 300 crore and it will include a platform and an auditorium. Gandhiji would surely turn in his grave at such a vulgar display in his name.

Hazare’s silence

There is a protracted silence on the part of Anna Hazare which is demoralising the activists of the Jan Lokpal movement in Delhi, who were banking on Hazare taking a proactive approach in the ongoing Assembly elections. Hazare has not issued any statement ever since he fell ill and called off his fast on December 27. Hazare’s poor health is not the only reason for concern for the activists. They suspect that the Congress has used the services of a Pune-based industrialist, a close associate of former Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, and a group of Hazare’s Maharashtrian friends to influence him. When People Against Corruption leader Arvind Kejriwal went to Ralegan Siddhi to meet Hazare, he got only a 30-minute audience, although he had hoped to hold discussions for half-a-day. Most cryptically, Hazare told him to prepare for 2014.

Antony cracks whip

Army chief Gen V K Singh should have known that he was unlikely to get a sympathetic response from Defence Minister A K Antony on the issue of his birth date. As chairperson of the AICC disciplinary committee for many years, Antony always opted for cracking the whip, whether it was Ashok Chavan, Shashi Tharoor or Natwar Singh. Antony goes entirely by file notations. Singh’s tenure will be remembered for the controversy about his age and little else. Thanks to the standoff between the Ministry of Defence and Army Headquarters, several decisions were put on hold. In fact, no major equipment for the artillery, infantry or aviation corps has been purchased despite the urgent need for procurement and upgrade. Even fast-track purchases have been held up for the last three years.

Gung-ho about UP

Rahul Gandhi is gung-ho about the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. At the strategy sessions at the Congress’s war room on Rakab Ganj Road, his confidence is apparent. Last week there was a meeting between Gandhi and Muslim leaders where Gandhi declared that the party would win a minimum of 70 seats and could possibly gain more than a 100. Congress MP Rashid Alvi struck a note of caution, pointing out that the Congress’s ambivalent position on quotas for Muslims had created negative feelings among those categories of Muslims who feel left out. Gandhi dismissed his misgivings, pointing out that during the Lok Sabha polls Alvi was similarly pessimistic and talked of a gain of two to five parliamentary seats but the party had ended up winning 22 seats.

Modifying her mood

Although Gujarat CM Narendra Modi flew to Chennai for a function organised by Cho Ramaswamy for his magazine Thuglak, he did not get an appointment to meet Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. The buzz in Tamil Nadu is that ever since Jayalalithaa’s meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in December, she has decided to declare a temporary truce with the Central government. Her talks with Singh centered on the resolution of the controversies over the Mullaperiyar dam and the Koodankulam nuclear power project. Jayalalithaa asked for additional funds for the State. The UPA government would like to mend fences with the AIADMK czarina as it has a dim view of the future electoral prospects of its alliance partner, the DMK.

Hasty overkill

In contrast to Jayalalithaa’s pragmatism, Mamata Banerjee seems determined to head for a showdown with the Congress. The Trinamool Congress leader, who has met BJP representatives, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Shahnawaz Hussain, more than once, harbours ambitions of emerging as a potential leader of a non-Congress front. An early parliamentary poll suits Banerjee since she hopes to increase her tally in Parliament from the present strength of 19 MPs. What Banerjee seems not to have taken into consideration is that her damage potential could diminish dramatically after the UP Assembly election. The Congress is banking on securing a more reliable ally in the Samajwadi Party, which has 22 MPs. Party strategists calculate that the Congress will win enough seats to install Mulayam Singh or his son, Akhilesh, as Chief Minister and the SP leader will, in turn, reciprocate by backing the UPA government at the Centre.


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