OPINION: Why Paswan is on tenterhooks

NEW DELHI (The Statesman/ANN) - The BJP has a dilemma on its hands about NDA ally Ram Vilas Paswan.

Will Amit Shah be able to keep his promise of sending Paswan to the Rajya Sabha from Assam? When Shah hammered out the seat distribution in Bihar for the ongoing Lok Sabha election, he had dangled the carrot of a Rajya Sabha seat for Paswan to keep his LJP in the NDA.

The seat was to be given to Paswan from the BJP’s quota in Assam, where two seats are falling vacant on June 14. Paswan bit the bait and agreed to contest five Lok Sabha seats this time, one less than his party contested in 2014. But now, it looks like there’s a problem.

BJP Assam leaders, including chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, are believed to have vetoed the proposal to send Paswan to the Rajya Sabha from their state. Their argument is that Assam is already on the edge on the “outsider” issue because of the National Register for Citizens and the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill.

Giving Paswan a ticket to the Rajya Sabha from Assam would only aggravate tensions. They are believed to have pointed out that Paswan is from Bihar. In Assam, he is seen as an “outsider”. They said the party will have a hard time justifying his election.

The ball is now in the court of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Paswan’s fate depends on the election result. If his party doesn’t perform well in the polls, the Modi-Shah duo may well dump him. Paswan will be on tenterhooks till May 23.

Power plays in Delhi

Internal power dynamics between Amit Shah, Arun Jaitley and RSS leader in charge of BJP Krishan Gopal influenced the choice of several BJP candidates in Delhi. For instance, Jaitley was dead set against re-nominating Meenakshi Lekhi for the New Delhi seat. He wanted to replace her with cricketer Gautam Gambhir and had even promised the latter the New Delhi ticket. With Jaitley backing him, Gambhir had already started making noises about joining politics and tweeting political messages.

But he did not account for the internal politics of the BJP. Shah and Gopal joined hands to block Jaitley’s nominee for New Delhi. This is a prestige seat and their argument was that Lekhi is already the sitting MP and should be re-nominated. When Jaitley pressed hard for Gambhir, they offered the East Delhi seat as an alternative.

Sitting MP Mahesh Giri was opting out and the BJP needed a replacement. Actually, the offer proved to be a crown of thorns for Gambhir. East Delhi was a much more difficult seat for the BJP to win because there were two strong opposition candidates in the fray. One was Atishi of AAP who is credited with the much-talked about educational reforms in Delhi government schools.

The other is Arvinder Singh Lovely of the Congress, who is an old east Delhi hand and a former minister in the Sheila Dikshit government. New Delhi, on the other hand, has traditionally been a winnable seat for the BJP. Although the Congress has won it a few times, it is considered a BJP stronghold, having sent stalwarts like Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani to the Lok Sabha. Gambhir would not have had to struggle so hard had he got this seat. Instead, the poor cricketer had to sweat it out against Atishi and Lovely.

As a newbie politician, Gambhir was no match for the wiles of his two opponents who have been in the game far longer than him. Ironically, while Shah and Gopal maneuvered to give Lekhi what is considered an easy seat for the BJP, New Delhi turned out to be a surprisingly tough contest for her. The Congress nominated Ajay Maken who has won the seat once and is remembered for his good work as MP.

On the other hand, Lekhi turned out to be quite unpopular both with voters and her workers. New Delhi shopkeepers and traders hit by sealing were particularly angry with her because they felt she did not lift a finger to help them.

Officials miffed

The ongoing election took its toll of a day most government officials look forward to: Indian Civil Services Day.

It falls on April 21, the day India’s first home minister Vallabhbhai Patel addressed a batch of probationers in 1947. As part of the annual celebrations, the prime minister addresses civil servants on that day and hands out awards for excellence. But this year, much to the disappointment of officials, there was no function and no awards.

The reason they were given was the election. It seems the PM could not find time amid his hectic campaign schedule for his officers. Disappointed civil servants satisfied themselves by wishing each other on Twitter. They are wondering whether the annual function will be held after a new government is formed or whether they will have to wait till next year to observe this red letter day in their service.

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