#PollVault: Opposition Churn Before Results and Priyanka's Love for Modi Supporters

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New Delhi: With the last lap of the 17th Lok Sabha elections remaining, murmurs about possible scenarios after counting has begun. This reflected in the way Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s (KCR) meeting with Tamil Nadu’s M.K. Stalin garnered attention on Monday.

KCR, also the Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s (TRS) chief, met the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader on the morning of May 13. Rao has been openly talking about an anti-BJP, anti-Congress front at the Centre. In his bid to forge a so-called third front – or what KCR calls a “federal front” – he has been meeting several other leaders of regional parties over the last few days.

Meeting Stalin was significant, as DMK is an official partner of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.

Given the regional parties are expected to do well in the polls, did the meeting indicate a churn among the UPA allies, many wondered.  

A DMK spokesperson, however, soon cleared the air and said that Stalin attempted to persuade KCR to join a Congress-led front, if it is in a position to bid for power.

The DMK’s declaration gave rise to more speculation. It was long believed by analysts that if the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance fails to muster a majority, it will depend on the TRS and Andhra Pradesh’s YSR Congress Party – the combined strength of whom is predicted by many to be around 30 – to form the government.

Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress has already said that it will go with the TRS in whatever decision it takes, provided the Union government promises to accord special category status to Andhra Pradesh.

However, if the maverick KCR supports a Congress-led front, the prospects of a NDA government at the Centre looks dim, in case of a hung outcome.  

Nitish Kumar gives mixed signals

The speculation that regional parties can go either way was further fuelled by none other than Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. Soon after attaining a whopping majority in 2015 Bihar assembly polls with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Kumar, the Janata Dal (United) chief, dumped its partner to ally with the BJP.

However, he is said to be unhappy, having been caged in as a junior partner to the BJP. He signalled his discomfort when, in a recent election rally, he remained silently seated in his chair when all leaders on the stage chanted “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” slogans along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

On Monday, JD (U) changed tack. It attempted to distinguish itself from the BJP-led “muscular nationalism” and reasserted its demand for a special category status (SCS) for Bihar.

“We’ll put up a fresh demand for Bihar’s special status before the 15th Finance Commission…a permanent solution to all round development of Bihar can be possible only if the State gets the SCS,” K.C. Tyagi, a senior JD(U) leader, told journalists in Patna.

JD(U)’s demand in the middle of the elections clearly came as a major embarrassment for the BJP. The saffron party has already said that it was not in favour of SCS for heartland states, however underdeveloped they may be.

Also read | Parrikar’s Panaji Seat: Why the Stakes Are so High for the BJP

When the N. Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party pulled out of the NDA in March, 2018, on Andhra Pradesh not being accorded SCS as promised, Arun Jaitley, the Union finance minister, had defended the Modi government’s decision.

He has cited the 15th Finance Commission’s recommendations that only hilly states and provinces in the Northeast could be allowed SCS. “Why not Bihar,” he had said in an attempt to project Modi government’s non-partisan attitude when asked about the promise made to the bifurcated Andhra Pradesh.    

Put in an awkward situation by its partner, a senior BJP leader in Bihar, who did not want to be named, told The Hindu that Nitish Kumar’s party should not have made such a statement in the middle of the poll campaign.

The party is contesting 17 out of 40 seats in Bihar, while its allies BJP and Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party are contesting in 17 and six constituencies respectively.

Mayawati’s spat with Modi

In the UP battleground, Mayawati came up with a terse reply for Modi’s attack on her. The prime minister on May 12 had accused the Bahujan Samaj Party chief of “shedding crocodile tears” over the Alwar gangrape of a Dalit woman and had dared her to withdraw her party’s support to Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan.

His remarks came despite Mayawati’s strong criticism of the Gehlot government for allegedly handling the sensitive case poorly.

Responding to the prime minister, Mayawati said Modi was only indulging in “dirty politics” over a rape case and asked how a man like Modi, who abandoned his “innocent wife” for “political selfishness”, could be expected to respect women.

Also read | In UP, the ‘Undercurrent’ Against the BJP Is Actually an Earthquake

She also added that she had heard that the many married women in the BJP were apprehensive of letting their husbands meet Modi, as they suspect that the prime minister may drive them away from their wives.

“What will he understand the honour of others’ sisters and daughters (when he is playing politics over a tragic rape case),” she said.

The BJP machinery, led by Union finance minister Arun Jaitley and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, soon hit out at her. Jaitley, in fact, said that the Dalit leader is “unfit for public life”, and attacked “left-liberals” for maintaining silence over her personal attack on the prime minister.

Down South, AIADMK leader imitates Hindu extremists

Tamil Nadu minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader K.T. Rajendra Balaji shocked everyone when he said actor Kamal Haasan’s “tongue should be cut off” for making a remark against Mahatma Gandhi’s killer Nathuram Godse.

Haasan had said that Godse, a Hindu, was independent India’s first extremist.

The BJP, too, extended support to the leader when it moved the Election Commission to demand that Haasan, the founder of the Makkal Needhi Maiam, should be banned from campaigning for five days. The state’s BJP chief Tamilsai Soundarajan, known to often court controversies, accused Haasan of “lighting a dangerous fire gain votes by minority appeasement”.

Meanwhile, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi sought to douse the political rage elsewhere.  

Accosted by a group of BJP supporters, who intercepted her with loud pro-Modi slogans, during her roadshow in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore, she stopped her motorcade and got down from her vehicle.

To their surprise, She shook hands with them and said, “Aap apni jagah, main meri jagah (You are entitled to your views, I am entitled to mine)….all the best.”

Moved by the gesture, the protestors wished her luck as she continued with her roadshow.