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Capital Grapevine  

Virendra Kapoor

Mahagathbandhan lies in tatters while Modi storms the campaign trail

In less than a fortnight polling for the first phase of the Lok Sabha election is set to begin, but the much-ballyhooed Mahagathbandhan seems to have already crumbled. Clashing aims and ambitions of group leaders, expectedly, played the spoiler. In the absence of a genuine meeting of hearts, the only rationale behind the so-called grand alliance was to somehow prevent the division of anti-Modi votes, a limited but sensible aim under the circumstances. But so deep-rooted are mutual suspicions that even this seems to have become impossible. Instead of swimming together, the regional overlords of family-owned political enterprises would prefer to sink separately. Sink they will if they give Modi a free pass by contesting against one another.

Aside from an imperfect and tortuous arrangement at seat-sharing in Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra, elsewhere there is a complete disarray in the opposition ranks. Even in Bihar they openly bickered over individual seats. Personal enmities of Laloo and Pappu Yadav have strained ties between the RJD and the Congress. It will be a vote against the Congress leadership if it fails to ensure a ticket for the ganglord Pappu Yadav’s wife, Ranjitha, who had distinguished herself in the outgoing Lok Sabha as a ranking member of Rahul’s shouting brigade.

Leave Bihar alone, for a moment. What about the Congress-NCP alliance? The decision by the Sharad Pawar-Ajit Pawar party --- the latter Pawar has emerged stronger than his uncle --- to contest all seats in Gujarat does not certainly advance the cause of Mahagathbandhan. Even in the closely-contested assembly election in the State last year, it should be remembered, the NCP had played the spoiler, fielding its own candidates in a number of constituencies. As it is, the NCP-Congress alliance in Maharashtra is far from perfect, with the Pawar duo claiming key seats which ought to have gone to their partner. Tussle over candidates and personal likes and dislikes of senior leaders of the two parties have caused so much frustration that the Congress boss of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan, was caught on tape saying he wants to quit the party. Since then, he seems to have been persuaded not to rock the boat at this critical juncture.

The state of the grand alliance in UP has been known for some time. But what is not noticed is the decision by Mayawati to field her own candidates in MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Given that in the recent assembly election in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP had actually polled a slightly higher percentage of popular votes, though it won half-a-dozen fewer seats, Mayawati taking away a small percentage of the anti-Modi vote can only further bolster the BJP tally in the Lok Sabha poll. Ditto for Rajasthan where in the assembly poll both the BJP and the Congress were neck-to-neck in terms of popular vote. Mayawati would damage the Congress’s bid to stage a comeback in the parliamentary poll as well.

In West Bengal the BJP has grabbed the opposition space which hitherto had belonged to the Marxists. The Congress was a minor presence though concentrated in a few pockets which resulted in it winning more seats in the Assembly than the Marxists. But given the dire state in which the two parties are, they would still not agree on seat-sharing, leaving the field clear for the BJP to frontally challenge Mamata Banerjee on her own turf. Fearing opposition consolidation behind the BJP, reports suggest that Mamata is quietly helping the Marxists with seconded cadres and funds so that it can eat into the BJP vote.

Elsewhere in the country the Opposition scene is mixed, with the Congress sitting pretty only in Punjab. Here thanks to the no-nonsense leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh and the death-wish of the Kejriwal faction of the Aam Aadmi Party there is every likelihood of the Congress performing exceedingly well, partially due to the rude and arrogant behaviour of Sukhbir Badal whose unilateralism has forced quite a few veteran Akalis to leave the party in disgust.

Again, the confusion and uncertainty in Delhi, which may have but only seven Lok Sabha seats but being the national capital attracts much wider attention, cannot be good for both the AAP and the Congress. True, Kejriwal seeks to partner the Congress only to eventually eat into its support-base, but not giving a clear signal to the party cadres can only harm the Congress. Kejriwal is concerned that without an alliance the sizable minority vote might switch to the Congress since it is better-placed to prevent Modi from becoming prime minister. But then Congress has to worry about its future, isn’t it?

Of course, there are several reasons why in spite of there being unanimity on ousting Modi the opposition has failed so miserably to agree on offering a one-to-one fight against BJP. The foremost reason is the absence of a tall leader with a moral stature high enough to command the respect of all others in the anti-Modi space. Rahul Gandhi is not, cannot be, that leader. Mulayam is not sure whether he wants his son to win or Modi to get a second term. H D Devegowda, the humble farmer, is fighting to establish his third generation in the family-owned JD(S). Sharad Pawar is now reduced to being the leader of less than half of Maharashtra --- and sharing that status with his more ambitious nephew. Chandrababu Naidu is engaged in a life and death battle with Jaganmohan Reddy while propping up his son as his successor in TDP.

If in this barren field, Modi, the only pan-Indian leader with the image of a doer, outshines the entire competition it should not surprise anyone. Modi has worked his way up the traditional way, from the grassroots up. His main rival, at least in the media, has inherited the ownership of the Grand Old Party. And see what he is bent on making out of it!

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The elusive Rs. 110-crore donation

Post-Pulwama, one Murtaza A. Hamid from Mumbai came forward to announce a donation of Rs 110 crores to the PM Relief Fund. We were told this is meant for the families of the CRPF personnel killed in the jihadi suicide attack. He claimed the donation would be from his `tax-paid’ income. That was over a month ago. But Hamid is yet to transfer the money to the PM Relief Fund. And all signs are he will not do so in living memory. Because he does not have a dime to give anyone, what to talk of such a huge amount.

However, this was of little concern to a section of the media which went to town with the story. More than the large amount sought to be donated what held the attention of a viciously anti-BJP television anchor, let us call him Pandeyji, was that he was a Muslim. Of course, not even a cursory attempt was made to inquire if he had the means to make good on his promise. What mattered to Pandeyji was that Hamid offered a rejection of the RSS-BJP narrative on nationalism and hyper-patriotism.

Clearly, propaganda dressed in secularist garb is ok --- like that fake diary of Yeddyurappa which an avowedly anti-Hindu paper highlighted as a world scoop --- but hard, fact-based news which may depict the government in a good light must be taken with more than a tonne of salt.