Was it Venkatagiri?
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman broke many glass ceilings while presenting the first Budget of the Modi Government’s second term. She carried the budget papers in a red bahi khaata instead of a brownish briefcase, made the longest budget speech of over two hours without reaching out for the glass of water once, and she did not give any figures (the fiscal and revenue, plan and non-plan, were all in the annexure in any case, she said later). She, well, did inject quite a bit of colour into the exercise. But was she wearing a pink Venkatagiri or just a south cotton? The debate is still on.
While she did not reveal what handloom she wore, she admitted her parents were present in the visitor’s gallery, to share the proud moment. It seems she had to work between two documents on her table, the 14th Finance Commission report and the interim budget of her precedessor. Sitharaman took care to meet the former FM Arun Jaitley and the doyen of Indian economic reform, Manmohan Singh, for general discussions on the state of the economy. What she finally delivered was as much of a political message as a hope story revolving around a $5 trillion economy!
Who’s the chief?
Rahul Gandhi is attending court hearings, and also watching Article 15 in a central Delhi multiplex with popcorn-munching friends. His office claims he’s no longer the Congress president, Motilal Vora has automatically become the Congress chief by the dint of his seniority. The AICC denies anyone else has assumed charge — for, it’s only the CWC which has the power to accept or reject a resignation. Who will call the CWC meeting? The organisational secretary KC Venugopal, it seems, ‘has to do the needful’. But he’s away.
The Congress top echelons, meanwhile, are combing through the grey areas in the party constitution to determine whether seniority will be determined by age or by the number of years a person has held a general secretary position. Obviously, it will be a toss-up between veteran Voraji and Mukul Wasnik. Vora is vehemently opposed to the idea of stepping into the shoes of a Gandhi. That does not leave the party with much option. Meanwhile, the party’s coalition government in Karnataka is collapsing. An old party loyalist quipped, the Congress is like a mom-and-pop shop up against an online Amazon-like behemoth (that is BJP).
Sonia Gandhi’s hand
As per Rahul Gandhi’s diktat, no one from the Gandhi family will lead the party. That rules out the possibility of Sonia Gandhi making a comeback or the mantle falling on her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Sonia, of course, remains the most disciplined soldier of the party, doing the parliamentary duties and the role assigned to her with utmost seriousness. She may not have uttered a single word to restrain her son from opting out and not attending the forthcoming CWC where an alternative will have to be found, but it is she who pulled the strings from behind to try and dissuade her son Rahul Gandhi from committing harakiri.
At the CPP meeting, she egged on the MPs to request Rahul to withdraw her resignation, and sent the CMs to persuade him to rethink. It’s believed she had sent Ashok Gehlot and Ahmed Patel to sit on dharna outside Rahul’s residence. It’s not for nothing that a now-deceased Left leader once called Sonia Gandhi the ‘Gandhari’ of modern Indian politics.
Tejashwi Yadav who had disappeared into thin air after the RJD wipeout in the Lok Sabha, resurfaced to reclaim the posts of RJD party chief and the leader of opposition in Bihar assembly. Tejashwi, who proved beyond doubt that he’s no Lalu Prasad nor a suitable legatee, showed no remorse or reluctance in resuming charge of the party.