Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Has Jaitley been snubbed?

The Union government recently announced new nominated members to the Rajya Sabha, and the results were quite interesting. While the inclusion of MC Mary Kom as a representative from the Northeast, and essentially replacing Sachin Tendulkar in the House, was a positive move, the inclusion of a former member of Sonia's Gandhi extra-constitutional NAC took many by surprise. Navjot Siddhu's nomination was understandable given the BJP-SAD government's imminent defeat in Punjab next year. But perhaps the biggest surprise was Subramaniam Swamy's nomination, which promises to shake up the House.

A glance at the last two names suggests an interesting theory: have Arun Jaitley's wings finally been clipped? The rivalry between Jaitley and Swamy is the stuff of legend - it is widely suspected that it was Jaitley that kept Swamy out of the Union Cabinet, and also prevented the government from firmly backing his mostly successful and relentless attack on the many scams of the Gandhi dynasty. But his nomination to the House may have been a consequence of the reset in the government and the party after the devastating loss in Bihar last year. And although it is heard that Jaitley was consulted on the nominations, it is hard to believe that he would've been alright with Swamy.

Siddhu is another story. He has every reason to be angry at Jaitley, who took the Amritsar seat from him to contest in 2014, and duly lost. Siddhu would have put in a much better opposition to Amrinder Singh of the Congress, who won that seat and added to the party's meager count of 44 in a House where it once had ten times that number. There was a very real chance that he would defect to the rising AAP in Punjab, and the BJP needed to keep him, particularly as a Sikh face to stand up to the Akalis. His nomination would cause much heartburn to Jaitley, but would help the party, even if by very little (the BJP-SAD should not hope for victory in Punjab next year).

From these two, it seems that Jaitley has truly been cut down to size, and the Prime Minister has reasserted his control over the government and the party. If these two don't convince you, consider the last nomination: Swapan Dasgupta, strongly disliked by the Lutyen's media that Jaitley is so fond of, and unconditional supporter of the Prime Minister, who has done a better job of defending the party and government on English news media than most BJP spokespersons (perhaps only bettered by HRD Minister Smriti Irani). He has been duly rewarded, and the party seems to have woken up to the fact that it does have a constituency willing to take on the Deep Congress, if only the party would back them.

The final thing to watch out for will be the long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle. That will finally answer the question as to what is left of Jaitley and his disastrous handling of both the Finance and I&B Ministries, as well as his political mishandling since losing in a wave election. 

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