Murmurs in a boiling political pot

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Anita Katyal

Faced with a spate of allegations of sexual harassment by women journalists, editor-turned-politician M.J. Akbar eventually stepped down from his post as minister of state of external affairs last week. Predictably, Akbar’s resignation came as a big relief for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party as its spokespersons were finding it increasingly difficult to fend off questions about the charges against Akbar and his continuation in the government. But shortly after Akbar put in his papers, the BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit sent word that the next logical step now would be to ask the former minister to resign his Rajya Sabha seat. Akbar was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh two years ago. BJP leaders have not gone public with their demand, but they have made it clear that they will impress upon the party leadership that Akbar should not be allowed to continue as a member of the Upper House given the serious allegations of sexual misconduct against him. The BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit has constantly complained about the party leadership’s growing tendency to accommodate outsiders from their quota of seats. The latest controversy involving Akbar has provided a fresh trigger to air their grievances. Besides Akbar, petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan is also a member of the Upper House from Madhya Pradesh.
First, there were reports about controversies surrounding Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s controversial wife Sadhna Singh. And now there is a buzz that her namesake Sadhna Thakur, the doctor wife of Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur, is also in the eye of a storm. Though the soft-spoken Thakur is personally quite popular, he finds himself in a spot following innumerable complaints from his colleagues and party workers about his wife’s overbearing behaviour. Ms Thakur comes from a political family, was active in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the BJP’s student’s wing, and has been conducting blood donation and medical camps in her capacity as a doctor and activist. However, she is said to be taking a far greater interest in politics after Thakur took over as chief minister last year. She has upset party workers after she denied them access to the chief minister’s residence on the plea that the grounds are out of bounds because the place had to be kept free for her pet dogs. She is also learned to be interfering in the functioning of the health ministry while her posting at the clinic attached to the state Assembly provides her ample opportunity to foray into her husband’s domain, which has led to considerable resentment in the government and the party.
Young Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in Uttarakhand are a worried lot these days. They are feeling threatened after media reports have suggested that national security adviser Ajit Doval’s son Shaurya Doval is keen to join politics and may contest elections from the state sometime in the future. Shaurya Doval, who runs the BJP’s high-profile think tank, India Foundation, has been attending party meetings in the state and even launched a project — “Bemisal Garhwal” as part of the “Buland Uttarakhand” campaign. Though this programme is focused on development issues, it is widely seen by BJP circles as a launchpad for young Doval’s political career. Shaurya Doval has denied that he plans to pursue a career in politics but BJP members in Uttarakhand are feeling insecure as Shaurya Doval is well-connected, adept at using technology and has greater access to the BJP top brass. The state leaders complain that while they have been working at the grassroots for years, they are invariably ignored in favour of outsiders when it comes to the selection of candidates for elections.
With elections around the corner, it is open season for political rivals to circulate stories and rumours about each other. Congress president Rahul Gandhi is a prime target of the BJP. This is particularly so each time he visits a temple or any other religious shrine. When the Nehru-Gandhi scion offered prayers at the Somnath temple, the BJP said he had admitted in the visitor’s book that he was not a Hindu. Similarly, when he undertook a pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar, BJP functionaries said Gandhi had consumed non-vegetarian food on the eve of his trek. And now it is being said that when the Congress president went to a gurdwara in Madhya Pradesh recently, he was set to put money in the shrine’s donation box but was cautioned against it by former minister Jyotiraditya Scindia as it could be misconstrued as a violation of the model code of conduct. This has become a laughing matter in the state as this action is being attributed to Gandhi’s poor understanding since it suggests that offerings made to the gods during elections are bribes. Others took potshots at Scindia, saying his advice may have something to do with the fact that he is reputed to be careful with money.