Inside Track by Coomi Kapoor: who was in charge?

The UP win was as much Amit Shah’s as it was Adityanath’s. If there was any doubt as to who was in charge of the campaign, all one had to do was visit the respective headquarters of Adityanath and Shah in Varanasi in the final days of the campaign.

Conventional wisdom was that if Yogi Adityanath narrowly won Uttar Pradesh, he could be fired in six months; if it was a big win, he was here to stay and emerge as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s eventual successor. But nothing is certain in politics. The UP win was as much Amit Shah’s as it was Adityanath’s. If there was any doubt as to who was in charge of the campaign, all one had to do was visit the respective headquarters of Adityanath and Shah in Varanasi in the final days of the campaign. The CM stayed at the track house and there were only a few government cars around. But a stream of VIP visitors descended on the Taj Hotel, where Shah was staying. Among the callers were BJP president JP Nadda, Union minister Giriraj Singh, state minister Shrikant Sharma, head of the state organization Sunil Bansal and Navneet Sehgal, the man considered the go-to man in UP’s officialdom, in addition to half a dozen Lok Sabha state MPs. Even Manoj Sinha took time off from his governorship duties in J&K to consult with Shah. It is noteworthy that Modi did not specifically mention Adityanath’s name while referring to the UP’s win on Friday.

Full-timer needed
Disenchantment with Rahul Gandhi has grown exponentially after the results of the General Assembly. Congress managed to snatch defeat from the clutches of victory in states like Punjab and Uttarakhand. Many congressmen grumble privately that while the BJP is run by a man who works 24×7, Rahul is regularly missing. For example, Rahul contracted Covid in April 2021 and was out of action for over a month. This was the pivotal period when Gandhi should have mapped out a strategy for potentially recoverable states like Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa. The problem is that no one in their party wants to make decisions without the actual approval of the president. Many of Rahul’s appointees are inexperienced and without influence or prestige. His main assistants KC Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala are fairly anonymous. And some of those in charge in the states are complete strangers like Devendra Yadav for Uttarakhand and Harish Chaudhary for Punjab. To put Harish Rawat in charge of Punjab for the Uttarakhand polls was suicide.

I miss the mood
Some in the media were misled in the latest round of the UP campaign by the intensity of the sentiments expressed by Akhilesh Yadav’s supporters. A senior columnist was carried away by the fact that he was nearly trampled in a stampede of over-enthusiastic participants in an SP rally. In western UP, a few journalists largely focused on interviewing those who had attended farmers’ rallies to feel the electoral wind, ignoring a significant quiet section of the BPL (Below Poverty Line), who were more concerned about the free ration allowances provided by Yogi Adityanath’s government post Covid.

Taken for a ride
Prashant Kishor’s Goa gamble proved a costly adventure for the Trinamool Congress, which remained blank in the polls. Former CM Churchill Alemao, who regarded Benaulim as his family’s fief, affiliation to the TMC proved to be a liability, as AAP’s five-time MLA was lost. Another political heavyweight, Luizinho Faleiro, was awarded a Rajya Sabha seat for joining the TMC last year, but the TMC failed to beat his former Navelim constituency. The TMC funded the campaign of its ally, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak party, which pledged the support of its two MLAs to the BJP government on the counting day.

stupid PM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was angry with the foreign ministry after the Russian offensive on February 24. He believed that the ministry had not adequately informed the government and that the advice to Indians living in Ukraine was vague. During the Cabinet Committee on Security that day, it was noteworthy that Petroleum Minister Hardeep Puri and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal were invited to attend, although both are not members of the CCS. Another rejection from the MEA was that the prime minister sent four senior ministers with no ties to foreign affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri, Jyotiraditya Scindia, VK Singh and Kiren Rijiju, to get Indian students out of Ukraine. The three ministers of state in the MEA stayed behind in India. (During Modi’s first term, MEA MoS VK Singh was responsible for the evacuations of Indian nationals in Yemen and South Sudan.) Puri, who comes from the IFS cadre, was proactive in providing input during the evacuation exercise. The decision to send senior ministers to oversee the program to bring Indians back from Ukraine may have kept MEA officials on their toes and may have been good for optics and media attention. It also meant that the MEA staff were sometimes distracted from their main purpose in arranging VIPs.

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