By Nora Chopra
Union Defence Minister AK Antony is Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s new hatchet man. It seems Sonia Gandhi has found a replacement for Pranab Mukherjee.Antonyis all set to be the leader of Lok Sabha and can even be made deputy PM if Pranab-Da moves over to Rashtrapati Bhawan. By sending Antonyto meet the DMK Chief, Sonia Gandhi has given enough indications to her party men within and to her critics outside that there is no dearth of leadership in her party. Questions were being raised that if Mukherjee is made President, the Congress would be left with no alternative. Eyebrows were being raised on who would be the leader of the Lok Sabha and who would be her crises manager. She has now given the answer and has effectively declared that she has many leaders of stature. In a clear signal to all the Mukherjee opponents, Sonia has sent message across that she was not opposed to Mukherjee being made the Rashtrapati. There has been a lot of talk that Sonia does not trust Pranab enough to be made the President. But her one move has demolished all such rumours. Despite her bad health, the Congress President Sonia Gandhi is back in action. With the falling image of Congress and the UPA, Sonia has taken upon herself to lead the party from the front. She is now personally handling the issue of the next President of India.
CHOICES ABOUND FOR VICE-PRESIDENTIAL POST
Who would be the next President is not the only question making rounds. Another million dollar question is who would be the next Vice-President. The names making rounds are of SY Qureishi, Prakash Singh Badal, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, Ram Gopal Yadav, PA Sangma and Najma Heptullah. While Heptullah is LK Advani’s candidate, she does not even enjoy her own party’s support and is being ruled out in the first stance. The UPA is expected to arrive at a deal with its allies like Mamata or Mulayam. Sonia Gandhi will support Mulayam’s candidate. Mulayam is backing the CEC SY Qureishi as his candidate for the President, but he would also settle for Vice-President. Mamata, with her eye on the Muslim vote bank, is also unlikely to oppose his name. Qureishi will also not be opposed by the NDA or the BJP. But if Qureishi emerges as the consensus candidate for the Vice-President, then automatically Hamid Ansari will not be the presidential candidate, leaving the turf for Pranab Mukherjee. Another strong candidature is Parkash Singh Badal, an NDA ally., and he would be acceptable to all others, but the Congress. Surprisingly, Badal also enjoys the support of the Punjab Congress. But then you cannot have a Sikh holding both the positions of the PM and VP. Gopal Krishna Gandhi may still be the dark horse. He is Mamata’s candidate and she may agree to support Mukherjee in lieu of the Congress supporting Gopal Gandhi as Vice-President.
NAIR-NATARAJAN LIAISON OUT IN THE OPEN
TKA Nair, who was passing his time as the PM’s adviser in the PMO waiting for a gubernatorial post, is now unlikely to get one in the wake after being caught in the land allotment row by the BEML chairman VRS Natarajan, in which it came out in the open that his relatives were given land illegally. Kutty Nair’s association with Natarajan goes back to the days when he was chairman of PESB during the NDA regime. Natarajan was GM ECIL (Electronic Corporation of India Ltd) in 2000, when there was vacancy for the post of Director HR in BEML. Natarajan applied but was rejected. Again in 2002, there was vacancy for CMD BEML. Again he applied and though he was not eligible (as the job required a technical person and Natarajan was an HR person) he got the job because Kutty Nair, the then chairman Public Sector Enterprises, the selection board went out of his way to give him the job. This was to please his then masters George Fernandes the then defence minister Chandra Babu Naidu, that Nair got Natarajan the job. George, also the then convenor of NDA, was under pressure from Naidu to appoint Natarajan in keeping with the coalition dharma.
BJP’S OTHER PRESIDENTIAL DILEMMA
BJP is in a chaos. On one hand, they cannot decide who will be their next President and neither can they come to a consensus as to who they would support in the Presidential polls. The anti-Nitin Gadkari camp in the BJP is using the services of a one time aide of late Pramod Mahajan, who runs a tent business, to unleash a campaign against the BJP President. This tent owner leader of the BJP is calling up newspaper offices and telling them that Murli Manohar Joshi will be the next President and not Gadkari. On the other hand, there are two kinds of press briefings in BJP. One is sort of ‘off the record’ briefing done by the leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley in Parliament house. In the adjoining room sits Sushma Swaraj to brief ‘on the record’ at the same time. And it was in one of those on the record briefing that she landed herself in trouble by announcing Abdul Kalam’s name and saying that Hamid Ansari lacks stature. Her supporters are now trying to explain away the embarrassing situation that by saying so she was indirectly supporting Pranab-Da.
SEARCH FOR UPCC PRESIDENT CONTINUING
With the interim committee submitting its report on the Congress defeat in the recently concluded Assembly polls, the search for a new UP President has only intensified. With RPN Singh reluctant to go to UP at this juncture, the names of Kamal Kishore — a Dalit, Imran Kidwai — a Muslim, and Rajesh Mishra and Jitin Prssad — both Brahmins, are making rounds. But the new name added to the list is of Mani Shankar Pandey — also a Brahmin fromVaranasi. Pandey is a man of the organisation. One of the founding members of the NSUI in Benaras has even headed the Sewa Dal in UP. He is a BHU product. He is said to be backed by an AICC general secretary to counter Mohan Prakash, also a product of the students’ movement in BHU. Prakash, once a protégé of the said general secretary, has now grown too big for his boots and has been held responsible for the party’s defeat in UP. A rank outsider, Mohan Prakash’s rise is resented in the party’s rank and file.
IT’S ALL RUNNING IN THE RAWAT FAMILY
Anand Singh Rawat, the son of the Union Minister Harish Rawat, is one of the hundred people, who have been given notices by the Uttarakhand PCC on the recommendation of the state disciplinary committee for anti party activities during the recently concluded Assembly polls. Harish Rawat was in the centre of the controversy, when he led a rebellion after being denied the chief ministership. The charge against Anand Rawat, who is president of the State Youth Congress, is that when he went to campaign in Lansdown, he campaigned against the Congress candidate J. Rohtile, in favour of one Tej Pal Singh Rawat, who was contesting on the Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha symbol. TPS Rawat, a former Congress minister and MLA, had shot to fame when he left the Congress after vacating his seat for the BJP chief minister BC Khanduri. The Congress candidate, who lost, complained against Anand that he was misguiding the voters and telling people that his father would be the CM, so they should vote for a Rawat candidate. He was overheard saying “Papa ko CM banana hai. TPS Rawat ko jitana hai.” Harish Rawat is also under fire for grabbing all party posts for his family. While Anand is Youth Congress President, his daughter Anupama Rawat is General secretary of State Mahila Congress and his wife is General Secretary of All India Mahila Congress. She was inducted when Rita Bahuguna was President of All India Mahila Congress.
THE OMNIPRESENT DR JAIRAM RAMESH
Trust Jairam Ramesh to poke his nose into every issue — be it state matter or concerning the central government. For example, the issue of the abduction of the Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon may easily be handled by the home ministry and the state government, but Jairam thought it to be his right and duty to jump in and join the Menon bandwagon. He is keeping in touch with Menon’s family and has even instructed the Congress MLAs in Chhattisgarh to meet the family of the abducted collector. One of the reasons for his new found activity is that in January, he had visited Sukma and spent almost a day with Alex Paul Menon. The latest example of his extracurricular activity is the rumour of the Kamraj Plan, where ministers were said to have offered their services to the party. While all ministers named debunked the rumour, including Jairam Ramesh, the other ministers were overheard pointing the possible finger to Ramesh and holding him responsible for floating the idea to test the waters.
RAVI IS SONIA’S MAN FOR ANDHRA PRADESH
Even when Vayalar Ravi, the new hatchet man of Sonia Gandhi in Andhra, who recently replaced Ghulam Nabi Azad after the latter withdrew himself from Andhra affairs citing health reasons, is yet to give his report to Madam on Andhra Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi seems to have decided on the change of leadership in the state. Rahul is highly impressed by one Marri Shashi Dhar Reddy, son of former AP CM Chenna Reddy and a fellow Stephenian, who is said to be highly tech savvy. Shashi Dhar Reddy, an MLA and vice chairman of National Disaster Management Authority, headed by the Prime Minister, is Rahul’s choice to succeed Kiran Kumar Reddy as CM. He also hails from the Telengana region. In his meeting with Sonia Gandhi, the AP Governor two weeks ago had also recommended change of leadership in the state and he had said that the present CM’s successor should be from Telengana. Meanwhile, Vayalar Ravi, in his report that is yet to be submitted, has argued against change of leadership. (IPA)