Jagdeep Dhankar was not on the original shortlist drawn up by the RSS and BJP brains trust for the vice-president’s post. But Narendra Modi, at a meeting with Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and J P Nadda, said he was not convinced by any of the suggested names, which reportedly included Arif Mohammed Khan and Manoj Sinha. While the selection of Droupadi Murmu sent an astute political message, the vice-president candidate should not be selected simply on considerations of gender, caste, religion or region, the PM emphasised. The V-P’s most important duty was functioning as chairperson of the Rajya Sabha and he was disappointed that the earlier chairperson had been unable to control the House and permitted the Opposition to set the narrative, he said. Rajnath then brought up Dhankhar’s name. As Governor of Bengal, Dhankhar has clashed with the state government on several issues and performed as a team player for the BJP’s Bengal unit rather than promoting himself. At the second meeting, consensus emerged on Dhankhar’s name, particularly after it was discovered that he had a sound legal background, a major requirement for dealing with obstructionist Opposition MPs citing legal points and parliamentary precedent. An added bonus was that Dhankhar is a Jat, a community which felt alienated after the farmer agitation.
It has been almost a month since Eknath Shinde was sworn in as Maharashtra’s Chief Minister, but so far, apart from Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis, not a single minister has been sworn in. The delay is largely because the Shinde Shiv Sena has to make tough choices from among the large number of ministerial aspirants. Shinde has made four trips to Delhi and met Home Minister Amit Shah each time. Meanwhile, Fadnavis has been visiting Mantralaya regularly and many of his old favourites in officialdom have been re-installed in key posts.
Who dictated names?
Mamata Banerjee dug in her heels and refused to back Margaret Alva’s candidature as vice-president to protest the unilateral announcement of her name without a proper discussion among Opposition parties. More than Alva’ selection, Banerjee was fuming over the announcement of Yashwant Sinha as the presidential candidate without consulting her, even though Sinha was a member of the TMC. (Banerjee was under the impression that Sharad Pawar would consent to be the presidential candidate.) Banerjee suspects that the names of both Sinha and Alva were actually floated by CPM president Sitaram Yechury. Pawar went along with Alva’s name since they were fellow travellers, leaving the Congress when Indira Gandhi lost power post-Emergency. The Congress, in fact, is not enamoured of Alva, who in her autobiography and interviews openly criticised the Gandhi family’s arbitrary and ad hoc style of functioning. Banerjee wanted a Muslim woman as V-P. Najma Hepatulla and Mohsina Kidwai were two of the names suggested. Her grouse is that Yechury, who heads a much depleted CPM, still manages to determine the Opposition’s course of action due to his proximity to Rahul Gandhi.
Samajwadi Party members are wringing their hands in despair over party chief Akhilesh Yadav’s laidback attitude. Yadav is complacent about the party’s recent debacles — whether it was SP MLAs defying the party whip in the presidential election or losing both the SP strongholds of Azamgarh and Rampur in the Lok Sabha by-elections. His refusal to campaign in the by-elections was certainly puzzling. Although he was alerted that a dozen MLAs were likely to cross-vote in the presidential poll, he refused to speak individually to the MLAs. A retired UP bureaucrat close to Mulayam Singh Yadav tried to act as peace- maker between uncle Shivpal Yadav, who is in touch with many party workers, and his estranged nephew. He arranged a meeting over tea for both of them at his Noida residence. Shivpal waited for three hours, but Akhilesh did not show up. Shivpal protested angrily that he had been insulted enough. On his part, Akhilesh, who was leaving shortly for London, has a laissez faire approach to these matters — anyone who wants to leave is welcome to, he says. His strategy apparently is to focus on the 2027 Assembly polls and not the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. But surely, the results of the first poll will impact the second.
In the six years that Droupadi Murmu was governor of Jharkhand, non-vegetarian food was not served at the Raj Bhavan. The menu for visitors at the governor’s residence reflected Murmu’s strictly vegetarian code. As a tribal, Murmu was once completely non-vegetarian, but after she embraced the Brahma Kumari movement following the tragic death of her son Laxman, she stopped eating meat, even avoiding onion and garlic. With Murmu at Rashtrapati Bhavan, will it turn completely vegetarian? Considering the number of foreign dignitaries to the presidential mansion, this may not be practical.