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New Delhi: Just in case voters forget the highly centralised nature of the government the prime minister has run for the past five years, the Bharatiya Janata Party has formally adopted as its primary campaign slogan this gentle reminder: ‘Modi hai to mumkin hai (Modi makes it possible)’.
Modi’s failure to get China to agree to list Jaish-e-Mohammed chief as a terrorist at the United Nations led Congress president Rahul Gandhi to accuse him of being “weak” and “scared”. Finance minister Arun Jaitley hit back on behalf of his “indefatigable” leader with an attack on Gandhi’s great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, calling him the “original sinner” for having allegedly refused to accept an American proposal for India to take China’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In fact, as Anton Harder has argued, the truth is rather more complex; in fact, way back in 1955 itself, Nehru had said in parliament that at no point was an amendment to the UN Charter on the cards, which is the only way a change in the line-up of permanent members is possible. Sixty-four years later, such an amendment still looks like an impossibility.
Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi will launch her Uttar Pradesh campaign from Nehru’s home town Allahabad. The Congress continues to put out mixed signals in the state. A day after it announced the names of 16 candidates for the state, including heavy-hitters like the former BJP MP Savitribai Phule, senior leader M. Veerappa Moily said that the party did not want the mahagathbandhan of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal to lose. If Moily is serious, some kind of adjustment is needed with the BSP and SP. At present, there is no sign of it.
Elsewhere, the Congress seems on course to announcing a formal tie-up with its old partner in Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference. Defending Rahul Gandhi’s jibe at Modi over Masood Azhar and Xi, NC leader Omar Abdullah attacked the BJP for giving “Pakistan a small victory” by postponing the Anantnag by-election in 2017 “and a big victory now that you’ve failed to conduct assembly elections”.
In Assam, the All India United Democratic Front of Badruddin Ajmal has said it will contest seven out of the state’s 14 seats. With the Asom Gana Parishad back in alliance with the BJP, the Congress is exploring a partnership with the AIUDF, which has considerable pockets of support in Assam, particularly among Muslim voters. The dilemma for the Congress, however, remains the same as what it was. In the 2016 state elections, it chose not to tie up with the AIUDF, fearing cannibalisation of its voter base. But the division of votes against the BJP proved costly.
Rahul Gandhi’s ‘generosity’ in Karnataka towards alliance partner Janata Dal (Secular) by giving it as many as eight out of 28 seats has raised eyebrows in the state as many of the seats allotted to the JD(S) are in areas where the latter party has traditionally been weak.
Comings and goings
Modi may not have moved Xi Jinping at the UN, but he did succeed in inspiring a top Congress spokesperson to defect to the BJP. On Thursday, Tom Vadakkan declared he was leaving the Congress because the party was working “against the national interest”. Prior to that, his timeline was full of tweets suggesting it was the BJP which was working against national interest. But then as he presciently noted, presumably in anticipation of his defection, “Once you join BJP all your crimes are cleansed.”
Congress leader Sheila Dikshit has not joined the BJP but her statement on Thursday about Manmohan Singh – “yes, wasn’t as strong and determined as [Modi] was” in responding to terrorism – will likely be used by the BJP in its campaigning. Her caveat – “but there is a feeling that he has done [the airstrikes on Pakistan] all for politics” – has already been drowned in the din of the headline she has created. Incidentally, Dikshit’s objections are the primary reason the Congress – which is clearly not as “strong and determined” as the BJP in Delhi – is hostile to the idea of an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party.
Though the Congress had originally decided to go it alone in Delhi and not have an alliance with the AAP, Rahul Gandhi may be rethinking his party’s strategy.There is a formula on the table, of 3+3+1 – where the two parties keep an equal number of seats and give the seventh seat to a strong independent candidate like Yashwant Sinha. But some candidates will have to be forsaken, and that is causing heartburn. However, amidst this eleventh hour talk of the Congress polling the views of its workers in the capital, AAP leader Gopal Rai on Thursday indicated that it might already be too late for the two anti-BJP parties to get together.
Plea to court on EVMs
On Thursday, all national parties barring the BJP and a host of mostly opposition regional parties filed an urgent petition in the Supreme Court. Their demand: that the Election Commission randomly verify at least half the electronic voting machines used in every constituency or assembly segment with the help of voter verified paper audit trails, or VVPATs. As of now, the EC is only prepared to conduct this verification at just one randomly selected polling station per assembly constituency or segment of a Lok Sabha seat. This matter will be taken up by the court on Friday.
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