Inside Track: PM Modi’s Cabinet expansion a chance for Shiv Sena to ditch the shaky MVA govt in Maharashtra?

The Manch meet was to revitalise anti-government forces and bring them together on a common platform.The Manch meet was to revitalise anti-government forces and bring them together on a common platform.The Manch meet was to revitalise anti-government forces and bring them together on a common platform.

Pawarful candidate

Sharad Pawar’s meetings with Prashant Kishor and the conference last month of disparate anti-BJP politicians and civil society activists under the umbrella of the Rashtra Manch at Pawar’s New Delhi residence had separate agendas. The Manch meet was to revitalise anti-government forces and bring them together on a common platform. But when it proved to be a damp squib with major Opposition figures, including the Congress, staying away, Pawar distanced himself from the programme. He clarified that he was not the main organiser. Pawar’s secret one-on-one meetings with Kishor are believed to have discussed fielding a strong presidential candidate in 2022, Pawar being the obvious choice. The wily 80-year-old Maratha politician and his daughter Supriya Sule have over the years built up an excellent rapport with politicians across the political divide. A united opposition could possibly pose a threat to the ruling party since the BJP’s presidential vote tally has fallen after losing several state Assembly elections. Much will depend on how UP votes in next year’s Assembly poll, otherwise it is wishful thinking.

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Expansion on Hold

The protracted delay in Narendra Modi announcing a Cabinet expansion-cum reshuffle is puzzling, particularly since the IB was reportedly given a list of potential ministerial names for vetting. The reason could be that the BJP is hoping to persuade its old ally, the Shiv Sena, to ditch the shaky MVA government in Maharashtra. In which case, the Sena would be accommodated at the Centre. The Sena’s weathervane, Saamana editor Sanjay Raut, has been uncharacteristically soft on Modi of late. A possible patch-up formula could entail Uddhav Thackeray continuing as CM and Devendra Fadnavis being sacrificed and compelled to come to New Delhi. The former CM may have the blessings of Nagpur but he is not a favourite of the BJP high command, especially after he presumptuously put his first name Devendra along with Narendra on party posters. A chastened BJP could settle for two deputy CMs and key ministerial portfolios as compensation. The Sena is apprehensive of Central agencies investigating its members and was annoyed with Congress state chief Nana Patole’s unilateral declaration that his party would go solo in the Mumbai civic elections. But it is still weighing its options. If the Cabinet changes are announced soon, it implies attempts at a rapprochement have fallen through.

Not for Party’s Eyes

Telugu journalist Krishna Rao’s recent biography on P V Narasimha Rao mentions that the late PM had met L K Advani at the R&AW headquarters a few days before the Babri Masjid demolition. He culled the information from the late R&AW operative B Raman’s book. Sceptics question why Rao would meet Advani at such an inappropriate venue. He had, in fact, reserved 5, Race Course Road for private meetings when visitors names were not recorded in the official diary. Visitors to 5, RCR included those rendering assistance in matters concerning Pakistan, Punjab, the Ayodhya crisis and the no-trust vote in Parliament. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Murli Manohar Joshi and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat met Rao more than once at 5, RCR on the Ram temple issue, but Advani was not involved in the discussions. Was an even more secret venue reserved solely for Advani?

Making a Point

Mehbooba Mufti may have come at the PM’s invitation to Delhi to discuss Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, but she managed to make a political statement. The J&K politicians were housed at the state guest house in Chankyapuri, but Mufti insisted on staying in the Ladakh block and not Kashmir House to make the point that she did not accept the division of the state. Incidentally, the original J&K guest house on Prithviraj Road was off limits, having been reserved for the wedding guests of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha’s son who got married on the same day as the conference. Caught off guard, Sinha, nevertheless, opted to attend the all-party meet, skipping some of the wedding festivities.

Weighing options

The political buzz that retired diplomat K C Singh, a staunch critic of the Modi government, who attended the Rashtra Manch meet recently, might join the Rashtriya Lok Dal has been discounted by Singh himself. A Jat Sikh, Singh explains that he is friendly with the late Ajit Singh’s son Jayant Chaudhary as their children were classmates in Modern School and he was invited to join the Chaudhary Charan Singh Trust. Singh believes that his future in politics, if any, lies in his home state, Punjab, and not UP. He would like to be part of an electoral fourth front in Punjab, but such a front would be viable only if Navjot Singh Sidhu quit the Congress. Singh’s political aspirations are perhaps whetted by the success of former IFS colleagues, Hardeep Puri and S Jaishankar.

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