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Throwing spanner in Spandana's works

Wednesday, October 10, 2018
By Arati Jerath

BJP circles are buzzing with excitement about the tantrum thrown by Congress social media cell head Divya Spandana. The social media whizz kid, who successfully upped the Congress party’s game on platforms like What’s App, Twitter and Facebook, is said to be sulking after being ticked off by bosses Rahul Gandhi and Randeep Surjewala for certain unsavoury tweets about Narendra Modi.

One particular tweet about Modi has got the Congress into trouble with the law. A defamation case has been filed against the party. According to Congress sources, after Spandana was pulled up for this, she deleted her bio from Twitter and disappeared from office. BJP supporters immediately started speculating that she had quit the Congress and would be holding an explosive press conference to spill the beans on the party’s relationship with controversial British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

Then, just as mysteriously as it had disappeared, Spandana’s bio was back on Twitter but there was still no official word on her status in the Congress. According to party sources, Spandana and Surjewala have a tense relationship. Technically, Surjewala as head of the Congress media department, is Spandana’s boss. But she functions independently of him and rarely seeks clearance for her tweets and other social media messages. This has been upsetting Surjewala.

Rahul was said to be quite happy with Spandana initially because she managed to raise the party’s visibility on social media. It started during the Gujarat election campaign in which the Congress often managed to get the better of the BJP, thanks to Spandana’s agile creativity.

But something seems to have soured now, raising questions about Spandana’s future prospects in the Congress. BJP circles are hoping that she will be out soon so that they can regain their upper hand on social media.

Kerala Congress charting own course
The Congress doesn’t know where to look. Its Kerala unit seems to be charting its own course on various issues, leaving Rahul Gandhi embarrassed on several occasions because of their conflicting views.

It has happened twice just recently. The first was the revelation from Arun Jaitley that Congress Lok Sabha MP from Kerala K V Thomas had written to him seeking a bailout for troubled infrastructure financing firm IL&FS. The Congress had no clue about the letter and Rahul Gandhi was in full flow attacking the government for bailing out a private firm that was heavily in debt.

Jaitley’s revelation about Thomas took the wind out of Rahul’s sails and the Congress president has gone quiet since then on the IL&FS issue.

And now the Kerala unit has decided to hold dharnas and protest meetings against the Supreme Court verdict allowing women into the Sabarimala temple. It is doing this even as Rahul has welcomed the verdict and praised the apex court for striking down patriarchal customs that discriminate against women.

It seems the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing in the Congress.

There is another interesting angle to the IL&FS controversy. This has to do with the BJP and a corporate house that was in the eye of a storm over the Rafale deal. Apparently, lobbyists of the corporate house were keen that the IL&FS issue dominate the headlines so that Rafale would be given a quiet burial and they would be off the hook.

But after Jaitley blew the whistle on Thomas, it’s the IL&FS issue that has died while Rafale is back in the news. It seems Jaitley has managed to wriggle out of a tight spot and the spotlight is back on Nirmala Sitharaman who is struggling to defend her ministry and the Modi government on the French fighter plane deal.

Congress secretly relieved
Contrary to popular perception, the Congress is secretly relieved that Mayawati has dumped the party in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Initially, the Congress was keen to have a pre-poll alliance with the BSP in both states as well as in Chhattisgarh.

But in recent weeks, the feedback from the ground has been that a tie-up with the BSP could harm the party’s prospects in the upcoming assembly polls, particularly in Madhya Pradesh.

A relook at voting statistics from previous elections shows that the BSP has been steadily losing ground for the past decade to the point of becoming irrelevant in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh while retaining a small vote base in MP in the Gwalior region along the UP border.

There are around 22 seats in this area where the BSP has some presence. These were the seats that had become a bone of contention between the Congress and Mayawati. The Congress realised that if it gave up these seats to the BSP, they would mostly likely be won by the BJP because the Congress would find it difficult to transfer its upper caste and OBC votes to the BSP. These groups are on the warpath against Dalits because the recent amendments to the SC/ST Act.

Mayawati soon realised that the Congress was having second thoughts about an alliance with the BSP but didn’t know how to call off the talks. She decided to turn the tables on the Congress and get some mileage for herself as the person who dumped the Congress instead of the other way around.

It is significant that despite Mayawati’s stringent attack on the Congress, its spokespersons have been quite soft on her. They have been making humble noises to dispel any notion of arrogance. Is the Congress trying to send a message to prospective allies for 2019?

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