By: John Elliott


The Modi government has at last had a couple of parliamentary successes with two urgent pieces of legislation covering auctions of coal and other mining leases being passed on March 20 at the end of the first part of the Budget session. 

That was the result of political haggling and deal making with opposition parties that Narendra Modi and his colleagues seem to have realized is more effective than the arrogant self-assuredness that came with their landslide general election victory last year.

They have however changed tack too late to pass vitally important land acquisition legalization. The government has been so insensitive to popular pressures that it has managed to unite a motley collection of opposition parties into a cohesive force on the issue in the Rajya Sabha (upper house) where it does not have a majority.

Meanwhile Rahul Gandhi, vice president of the Congress Party, has not been seen for a month. No one – presumably apart from his mother Sonia and a few other insiders – knows where he has gone, nor why, though there is a strong rumor that he had a bust up row with Sonia over party reforms and left.

I asked a couple of wise contacts in the India International Center over the weekend and one of them said “He went first to Myanmar and then on to Cambodia”. Well, that would be quite a trip, and Myanmar has been one of his rumored hideaways in the past. But the official word is that he is “introspecting on the future of the Congress Party” in advance of taking over from his mother as party president.

Rahul vanished without warning just as the budget session started on February 23, and was due back after two weeks. His presidential anointing was officially rumored to follow in April. But he extended his “sabbatical” and the rumor mill now says the session of the top-level All India Congress Committee (AICC), where he would take over, has been postponed till the autumn, or later. He is now expected back “at the end of the month,” which roughly means within a week.

His loyalists remain loyal, even though he has missed a month of key parliamentary debates that included the annual budget. But they are beginning to indicate impatience, while not daring to be critical enough to upset either “the family” or the equilibrium balanced around the dynasty at the top of the party.

Jyotiraditya Scindia, probably the most competent Congress politicians of 44-year old Rahul Gandhi’s generation, and the son of a former party leader, came near to criticism in a Headlines Today television interview last week.

He said several times that he accepted Rahul’s (and Sonia’s) leadership and asserted, “they both inspire us.” But in answer to a direct question from Rajdeep Sardesai, the interviewer, he said, “Yes, I think the time for introspection is way over. I think the time for execution [of a new approach] should have started a couple of months ago”.

Meanwhile Sonia Gandhi has had a splendid couple of weeks, literally leading her party from the front on two political marches through Delhi with a self-assurance and determination she rarely shows.