By Nora Chopra
Red alert for Mamata Banerjee: Mulayam Singh Yadav was not only the most sought after guest of Sonia Gandhi at the Prime Minister’s dinner on Tuesday, his presence on the dias with the UPA allies is a warning bell for Mamata-Di all the way. While his 19 MPs can make life secure for the Congress candidate to Rashtrapati Bhawan, Mulayam is also set to join the cabinet and get Railways. Mamata may be given one more cabinet berth but she will have to surrender Railways. The Prime Minister does not want Mukul Roy as railway minister. Not stopping at this, Mamata’s arch rival, the Congresswoman Deepa Dasmunshi, is likely to be made the West Bengal PCC Chief. And worst is the possibility of the left parties supporting the UPA’s presidential candidate.
MAYAWATI’S CONSPICUOUS ABSENCE AT PM’S DINNER
While the focus of the Prime Minister’s dinner on Tuesday was on the most notable Mulayam Singh Yadav, nobody mentioned that the most notable absentee was Mulayam Singh Yadav’s arch rival in UP, i.e., ‘Behen’ Mayawati. Incidentally, Mayawati, just two days before, had announced her total support to UPA. In a press conference last week, Mayawati had said that in order to keep the communal forces out of power, she will continue to support the UPA. Just two days later, she was absent from UPA’s high profile dinner. So now, the question making the rounds is: will she support the Congress nominee in the presidential election or will she abstain or go with the Left? The buzz is that despite his proximity to the Left Mulayam has been co-opted to support Congress. Now Will Mayawati rally behind Prakash Karat or tow in the Sonia way?
PANDEMONIUM IN PARLIAMENT CANTEEN
The Parliament canteen, once famous for its cheap rates and great quality of food and service, is on a fast decline. However, the decline really started during NDA regime, when the then railway minister (under whom the canteen runs) banned the journalists from eating with the MPs in the same canteen. But with Mamata Banerjee’s nominee Mukul Roy in charge of the canteen, it is in its worst shape ever, despite the fact that elaborate arrangement was made by Mamata herself when she was the concerned minister for making the Bengali fish curry. A cook was specially brought fromWest Bengalto prepare the Bengali fish. Now, once again, fish has gone missing from the menu. Except for Roy and his Trinamool colleagues, no one can get fish. Not only that, the canteen is run in utter confusion. The quality of the food has deteriorated like nobody’s business. The service is terrible. You have to be really influential to get your order fast or else you have to wait for more then one hour to get your order, even if it means missing out on your work or staying hungry. And if you are lucky to get your food in less than an hour, you would get rice but no dal or curry that you must have ordered along side. If you get the plate there will be no spoons and you can see the managers eating themselves as they stand near the food counter. Upon complaining they usually say that they are running short of staff.
PRESIDENTIAL FRONT RUNNERS STAND NO CHANCE
If wishes were horses then beggars would be princes. This phrase is apt on all the current front runners for the post of President: Meira Kumar or PA Sangma or even Pranab Mukherjee. If Sharad Pawar is to be believed then the front runners have no chance. When asked about the possibility of Pranab Mukherjee reaching Raisina Hills at the PM’s UPA dinner, Pawar said, “As far as I know, Congress front runners have no chance. They are projected to lose the race.” This was the general echo at the dinner. Same can be said of Meira Kumar. If she hopes to get support from all over because of her Dalit credentials, she will be opposed by Mayawati for the same reason. It is basically the fight for 2014. Mamata, being a Prime Ministerial aspirant in 2014, cannot support a Bengali President. Similarly Mayawati, whose Dalit rank and file is getting disenchanted. Cracks have appeared within its Dalits cadres, particularly within her Jatav Samaj. Recently, a rally was held in Delhi by old Kanshiram Associates attended by about 400 BSP’s dalit cadres, most of whom were Jatavs known as ‘chamaars’ in UP andBihar. Their slogan was “Mayawati Hatao, BSP Bachao.” This rattled Mayawati so much that she called a press conference to claim that she continues to have total control over her party. By supporting Meira Kumar, a chamaar by caste herself, Mayawati is apprehensive of losing her hold over the Dalits, who can walk over to the Congress.
MEIRA KUMAR CAN EMERGE AS THE CONSENSUS CANDIDATE
Eyebrows were raised when Mamata Banerjee took the name of the Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar as one of her three choices for the President. Besides the fact that Meira has been working on Mamata for the last one year and they both enjoy a good personal rapport, the general perception is that Mamata has taken the speaker’s name on the behest of both the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It has been done with the purpose of cutting out Pranab Mukherjee from the race. The Lok Sabha speaker, a strong contender herself for both the President and Vice President’s post, is leaving no stone unturned to please Didi. These days she has hired two teachers, one to learn Bengali and the other how to recite Bengali poetry by Qazi Nazrul Islam, Mamata’s favourite poet. She is learning Bengali from the Kamala Nehru College principal Minati Chattejee and she has hired a famous theatre personality to teach her the recitation of the Nazrul Islam’s famous poem ‘Bidrohi’. Meira Kumar was to go to Bangladesh for five days for a joint programme being organised by India and Bangladesh to celebrate the anniversary of Qazi Nazrul Islam’s poem Bidrohi’ on May 24, but has cancelled her visit as she wants to be in Delhi to lobby for her candidacy. Kumar is seriously working on her image makeover. She is said to be extremely hopeful of emerging as the only consensus candidate for the post of the President of India, once the names of Hamid Ansari and Pranab Mukherjee phase out from the reckoning. She seems to have the support of the Prime Minister and the PMO is resounding with the name of Meira Kumar as the consensus candidate. Visiting journalists to the PMO are being fed that Kumar, being a Dalit, alone will have all round support as Mukherjee cannot be spared at any cost and Ansari will not be acceptable to all.
SHORT OF SPOKESPERSONS, CONGRESS MISMANAGES THE MEDIA
The Congress high command has sounded a search for spokespersons in the wake of Abhishek Singhvi’s resignation from the post after his CD controversy broke out. Hectic lobbying for the post has begun after the media chairperson Janardan Diwedi has expressed his helplessness to manage the media in view of the existing shortage of spokespersons in the Congress. He has asked for three more mouthpieces in addition to Rashid Alvi, Renuka Chowdhury and Manish Tiwari. Barring Manish, the other two are also not supposed to be upto the mark. The party bosses, plus the media too, are not really pleased with their performance. Renuka recently messed up the party view on Pranab Mukherjee’s Presidential candidate issue by saying that he cannot be spared. Alvi made further mess by saying though what she meant was Pranab Mukherjee was very important and was needed everywhere but he did not rule out his candidature. Both of them were taken to task and after her statement and he only made her appearance once this week. Among the names making rounds are of Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Sanjay Nirupam, Mani Shankar Aiyar and PC Chacko. Satyvrata is also tipped to replace Digvijay Singh as general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh.
ARUN JAITLEY IS THE BJP MAN TO WATCH FOR
Arun Jaitley is the man to watch in the BJP. While the nation is gripped with debate on who would be the next President of India, the BJP is busy debating who would be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Though Sushma Swaraj, being leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, claims to be the shadow PM, it is Arun Jaitley, who is fast emerging as the number two in the party. In the absence of LK Advani, the BJP parliamentary party was jointly addressed by both Sushma and Jaitley. In the absence of Gadkari, he has been authorised to talk to all the problematic people in the party. He is the only one who is talking to Narendra Modi, and also Vasundhara Raje Scindia and BS Yeddyurappa. In fact, even the Congress leaders are consulting Jaitley. Kapil Sibal consulted him on the Copy Right Bill, while Salman Khurshid consulted him on the Divorce Rights Bill. Jaitley’s free of cost advice to MPs cutting across party lines has got him a huge fan club. His popularity is high among women MPs like Jaya Bachchan and Kanimozhi. Jaya has been heard thanking him for helping her raise the Angola issue in the house. Kanimozhi too has been heard praising him profusely. Sushma, however, is sidelined. She has been told to keep the finger on her lips after her controversial statement on Hamid Ansari’s stature. She is no more talking to the media, nor taking any calls. Even requests from top media bosses, such as that of Times Now, was turned down. (IPA)