Union Cabinet Rejig
A failed Central strategy has shifted New Delhi’s focus on to the States. Both on tackling the pandemic and future of BJP on ensuing Assembly elections. This could be one of many interpretations being given to the Cabinet reshuffle undertaken Thursday last. Undeniably, Modi team failed miserably in damage control viz second wave of Covid and therefore fell the axe on key ministers. But whether those handpicked now will be able to make amends, is a big question. Fighting Covid together appears now a strategy of the new Health Minister. In the first Cabinet meeting, Rs 23,000 crores package for emergency response to Covid-19 was announced to be used “jointly by both Central and State governments” (Centre will provide Rs 15,000 crore, States will spend Rs 8,123 crore) after ‘detailed consultation’ with States. The package includes creation of paediatric units in all 736 districts, installation of 1,050 liquid medical oxygen storage tanks etc. Perhaps, it means better preparation for the 3rd wave or at least ensure its not a catastrophe and the blame doesn’t land Delhi alone. The other focus is on States going to polls—2022. Selection of ministers show the highest number, seven, are from UP, where Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is under fire, taking the number to 16, three from Gujarat, one each from Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Manipur. All States, where BJP must ensure its retains control. Indeed, there’s more than meets the eye.
BJP’s Bengal Concern
The growing discord amongst its leaders in West Bengal continues to rattle the BJP. How many will cross over to rival TMC? More so with the latest resignation of its MP Saumitra Khan from the post of state youth wing chief on Wednesday last. While he didn’t cite any reason, the BJYM chief did use the Facebook to hit out at Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari accusing him of trying to take credit for all the achievements the saffron camp has made as well as the State BJP President Dilip Ghosh saying he didn’t comprehend half the things. While he claimed he wouldn’t leave the BJP, which he joined in 2018 from TMC, the timing is interesting. It coincides with reports that some BJP MPs from the State may be made MoS in Cabinet reshuffle. Well, he wasn’t one of the four that Modi picked, all first time MPs—Shantanu Thakur, NisithPramanik, John Barla and Subhas Sarkar! The move may not only halt leaders from joining the TMC but give hope to others that there are rewards for good performance. Equally important is the fact that the choice appears to fix caste equations before 2024, General Election—3 of the 4 belong to SC/ST communities. Be that as it may, the big fight is a long way off and rivalry between the old and new loyalists may simmer. But BJP believes in well begin is half done.
Complacency in NE? North East is giving North Block a cause for worry. Statistics reveal that as many as 45 of 73 districts, which reported over 10% Covid-19 positivity rate in the past one week were from there. Clearly, the complacency of the virus not reaching this region, like the rest of the country wouldn’t work. Thus, on Wednesday last, Home Secretary held a meeting with top officials from the eight States and asked them to adhere to MHA’s five-fold strategy of Test-Track-Treat-Vaccinate and COVID appropriate behaviour, as laid out June-end. Plus, they were advised to strictly monitor the situation at district/city level and consider imposing restrictions in a calibrated manner. While it may be not on the tourist list as Uttarakhand, it would do well to pay heed to the hill State’s High Court directive asking the government to control their inflow and review its decision to relax the weekend lockdown. The two-judge bench took into account media reports of the hill stations being inundated with tourists every weekend and warned that tourists could be carriers of the Delta Plus Covid-19 variant! Remember a stitch in time saves nine.
Uttarakhand CM Jinx
Uttarakhand seems to give the BJP a record of sorts. It’s third Chief Minister in just four months! Indeed, the State going to the polls next year has the party worried. Not just the infighting within the party but fading possibility of Tirath Singh Rawat getting elected to the Assembly by September, made New Delhi install a new Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami. He is said to be close to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, is just 45 years old, a two-time MLA and was formerly OSD to CM Koshiyari. While Rawat is the one who proposed his name among nearly half-a-dozen other MLAs, the big question is how long will he last. Tirath resigned after just 114 days in the seat, mired in controversies with the public upset over some of his statements, such as against ripped jeans as well as criticising his predecessor Trivendra’s policies, which included trying to restrict the gathering at the Kumbh mela, which cost him his job. However, the reason given is a constitutional crisis has emerged with uncertainty over the Election Commission giving permission to hold a by-poll for Rawat to be elected to the Assembly in these Covid times. For one, the Congress doesn’t buy it and uses the opportunity to mock the frequent change in guard: BJP’s high drama in Dehradun is an insult to people of Uttarakhand. Modi had promised to give a double-engine government, but the State only received different Chief Ministers and no development! With less than a year for polls, expecting miracles from Dhami will be a tall order.
Era Ends In Himachal
An era ends in Himachal Pradesh, which goes into three days of State mourning. The passing away of its longest-serving Chief Minister (six times) and Congress leader and Union Minister Virbhadra Singh on Thursday last, due to post Covid complications, has left a big void, particularly in the grand old party. The timing too couldn’t be worse – months before the Assembly polls. Known popularly as Raja Sahib, 87-year Singh had dominated the political landscape for almost 5 decades since he joined the Congress in 1961 and was the youngest member of the 3rd Lok Sabha. People will remember him for his policies, such as safeguarding land rights of local people by strengthening laws to ensure outsiders couldn’t buy agricultural land, the ban on felling of trees, giving a boost to hydel projects and the State being the first to ban production, sale, and use of small polythene bags. Importantly, though he belonged to royal lineage, he was humble and people had easy access to him. The going was rough after the BJP came to power and the CBI filed a case against him and wife Pratibha Singh, in a case of disproportionate assets in 2015. He is said to have spent most of the time in his last tenure as CM, (December 2012-2017) shuttling between Shimla and Delhi. And while he was keeping away from active politics lately due to ill health, a second rung leadership within the party has failed to emerge. Will his wife or son Vikramaditya Singh be able to keep the legacy alive?
Humiliation For Tipplers!
Kerala High Court comes to the aid of tipplers! Overcrowding and long queues outside state-run Beverages Corporation’s (BEVCO) outlets amid the pandemic is not done. On Thursday last, it asked BEVCO’s MD and State excise commissioner to file a report on steps taken to reduce the crowd.Importantly, it noted: “When customers line up in front of liquor shops and spill over to public spaces and roads, it certainly is an affront to the dignity of a society as a whole. As far as the customer is concerned, he is put to a great amount of humiliation, which he is forced to endure because thesale of liquor isvirtually a monopoly at the hands of Bevco.” He directed sufficient facilities be given to customers so they can make their choice of purchase of liquor in a civilised manner like any other commodity.The aim of the court, he explained was not to find fault but to ensure a nagging problem that the State has been facing for the past several years be resolved in the most effective manner. Will this help in the long run? It may not be so simple in God’s own country, for ‘health being more important than revenue,’ is a fact that the government, like all others, will choose to overlook! — INFA