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India: Rahul Gandhi set to become Congress President



Putting to rest all speculation and debate, Rahul Gandhi, MP, now the youngest member of Nehru dynasty that ruled India for years since its independence in 1947, is all set to take over as the president of Indian National Congress party from his mother Sonia Gandhi.

The high powered Congress working Committee in its meeting on November 20 has decided to make Rahul the new president of the party.

 Sources said Sonia Gandhi would remain a figurehead and could continue as chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party. Sonia has held the post of Congress chief since 1998, and is now the longest-serving president of the party. The delay in convening the CWC and the suspense over Rahul’s elevation has been the subject of much debate in the party. It was in November last year that the CWC unanimously asked Rahul to take over, but he wanted to follow the election route.

But while the election process began months ago and went largely as per schedule, the last leg — the election of the party chief — had been delayed. Though this was attributed to the leadership’s preoccupation with the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections, most senior leaders were of the view that Rahul should be elevated before the Gujarat polls.

The announcement followed months of speculation that the 47-year-old scion of the Gandhi dynasty would soon take over from his mother.  Party chief Sonia Gandhi has convened a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Monday to approve the schedule for election of the Congress president. The process of election — from the date of notification to nomination, withdrawal, scrutiny and actual election — will take 12 to 14 days.

Rahul Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather all served as prime minister, was the party’s front man in the last general election. But his 70-year-old mother Sonia remains its president. She has not publicly announced a decision to stand down as Congress president, but party official Mullappally Ramachandran said after a meeting of senior leaders on Monday that an election would be held next month for the purpose of elevating Rahul to the new top post. .

On Monday, the party set a December 4 deadline for nominations for president and said any vote would be held on December 16. It held its last leadership election in 2010, when Sonia Gandhi stood unopposed.

Rahul, who entered politics in 2004, was appointed the vice-president of the party in 2013. He has been virtually running the party for some time since ill-health forced Sonia to take a back seat. Lately, he has also led the Congress campaign in Gujarat from the front, and has been strident in his attacks on the Narendra Modi government.

Rahul Gandhi was elected vice-president of the Congress party in 2013 and has long been his mother’s presumed successor. He was strongly criticised for a lacklustre campaign that led to a defeat by Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 general election. But few inside the party, which has since suffered a series of state election defeats, have been willing to publicly criticise the family that has been at its helm for generations.

Rahul has long had the reputation of a reluctant leader, although some analysts say he has displayed greater political acumen since the 2014 election defeat. “Earlier, he was too young and didn’t have a lot of experience, so he used to make mistakes sometimes. But now, he has become more seasoned,” veteran party leader Virbhadra Singh told AFP ahead of Monday’s announcement.

Congress has ruled India for most of the period since independence in 1947 and has almost always been led by the Nehru-Gandhi clan, beginning with the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

It is up to the working committee to decide the time frame, but sources in the party said Rahul is expected to take over before the first phase of polling in Gujarat, on December 9. A senior leader said he could take over by the end of November itself.

Sonia Gandhi took over as Congress president in 1998 after the dramatic ouster of two successive party chiefs – PV Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri. She inherited a weakened party that was in power only in four states and had been reduced to 114 seats in the Lok Sabha. She guided the Congress to power in 14 states within a year of taking over and subsequently steered it to victory in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls after successfully stitching up alliances with a group of disparate political parties.

Rahul Gandhi is taking charge of the Congress when its numbers in the Lok Sabha have dwindled to 44, its organisation is in poor shape and its footprint across the country has shrunk to a couple of states. Clearly, the new Congress president has a tough task at hand, faced with the challenge of strengthening the organisation, re-establishing the party’s credibility and reversing its electoral fortunes.

Unlike her son, who has had the luxury of a 13-year apprenticeship, Sonia Gandhi was a novice when she entered politics. But she proved an adept learner and soon emerged as a leader in her own right. She was well aware of her limitations in managing a complex party like the Congress and was equally conscious of the growing Opposition campaign against her because of her foreign origin. Instead of taking unilateral decisions, Sonia Gandhi adopted a system of extensive consultations with the senior leadership to the extent that she was branded a status quoist. She was so conscious of her inexperience that she hesitated in taking decisions in case she upset anyone. Sonia Gandhi deliberately kept a low profile, never veered from the written script and avoided making any off-the-cuff remarks either in public or in private conversations with party workers. She converted her handicap to her advantage by presenting a carefully cultivated image of an enigma.

Congress led government became  an insensitive dispensation that promoted rampant corruption and nepotism as state cum party policy. That ruin the party and nation.

On the flip side, Sonia Gandhi allowed the party organisation to slide in the decade that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was in power. Instead of using this opportunity to strengthen the Congress organisation and build a second rung of state leadership, she chose to overlook the drift in the party. The Congress Working Committee was rendered virtually redundant as it met infrequently and never held any honest brainstorming sessions that could have enabled the leadership to get inputs from the ground. The upshot was that the gap between the party and the people widened as Congressmen were busy running after power and positions during the United Progressive Alliance regime. Rahul Gandhi admitted as much on his trip to the United States in September, when he pointed out, “Around 2012, arrogance crept into the Congress party and we stopped having conversations with people.”

Currently, Rahul is busy canvassing for the general poll in Gujarat, the home state of PM Modi and there is a report that BJP might lose the poll there which would be a disaster for the federal government run by Modi. .

As Rahul Gandhi gets ready to take over as Congress president in the coming weeks – with Sonia Gandhi having promoted her son to that post feels elated. The Nehru-Gandhi scion’s elevation has been so long in the coming that now that it is round the corner, the enthusiasm among the cadre is outweighed by growing uncertainty about how the party will shape up under his leadership.

Congress party is a weak structure now one unable to stand even when the ruling BJP is gradually falling following wrong steps through disastrous demonetization and GST. Whether Rahul taking over the party would make any difference to the fortunes of the Congress in the next general poll s remains to be seen.

Rahul Gandhi will be inheriting a party organisation that is in far worse shape than it was when Sonia Gandhi took charge as Congress president. He is not weighed down by any major corruption charges (except the National Herald case, in which he and Sonia Gandhi are accused of conspiracy and cheating with the aim of acquiring properties and assets owned by the National Herald newspaper) As in the case of Narendra Modi, nobody can charge him of promoting his dynasty… he has a family and, at the same time, he does not.”So far there are no reports that his family runs the government.

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are also temperamentally different. She was a hard worker, a consensus builder and known to be accommodative as she gave party workers a patient hearing and never took hurried decisions. Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, is impulsive, believes he knows it all and is inaccessible to party workers. Another difference between the two is that while Sonia Gandhi was happy to continue with the party’s old and established style of functioning, Rahul Gandhi has made it clear he is not impressed with it and that he wants to change the existing set-up and usher in greater inner-party democracy. In fact, he made no effort to hide his disdain and distrust of established party leaders and workers, convinced they had a vested interest in maintaining status quo in the party.

Despite misgivings about Rahul Gandhi’s leadership capabilities and his style of functioning, news about his imminent elevation has come as a relief to Congress workers as it will provide greater clarity about the chain of command in the party. Congress leaders hope now that the uncertainty over his elevation is over, Rahul Gandhi will become more accessible to the party rank and file to enable him to get feedback from grassroots workers. They also expect faster decision-making and a revamp of the party organisation.

Rahul Gandhi is in dire need of a credible and effective political apparatus, which the Congress is sorely lacking at present. Rahul has surrounded himself with inexperienced and non-political players who have little or no grassroots knowledge.

Importantly, Rahul Gandhi has to start winning elections. So far, his track record on this front has not been encouraging. The party’s win in the last Punjab Assembly elections earlier this year after a string of defeats over the past two years was a morale booster for the Congress vice-president, even though it was widely acknowledged that it was Amarinder Singh who led the party to victory.

All eyes are now on the Gujarat elections, the next battleground that will see a face-off between Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. While the Modi-Shah duo cannot afford to lose their home state, the Congress is putting up a spirited fight, encouraged by growing public anger over the poor implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, the economic slowdown, the agrarian crisis and atrocities against Dalits. The BJP is fighting with its back to the wall as it has far more at stake in Gujarat than the Congress.

Recently, Rahul Gandhi has shown the signs of maturity as a senior leader of the party and he is no longer considered a ‘reluctant leader’ and many find him a lot more dynamic now. He has apparently made BJP a little bit nervous on the ‘poor condition of the economy’, lack of sufficient job creation, and ‘faulty rollout of goods and services tax (GST)’ and demonetization. Rahul Gandhi and his team members have managed to use social media effectively to create a discussion around these issues.

Rahul Gandhi needs to pick issues that he can drum up right now and create enough buzz to dethrone NDA during the general election. But, neither the Congress party nor its leader Rahul Gandhi has really picked up such an issue.

 Voters want to hear how Congress party plans to change the scenario. Now, this is going to be difficult as any statement by Rahul Gandhi would invite BJP’s wrath questioning what steps Congress party took when it was in power.

Rahul Gandhi is fully aware of the infighting Congress party is battling in many states. Rahul faces the uphill task of energising the organisation and making the members go out and meet people, and sustain their efforts till Lok Sabha elections 2019.

Rahul’s future journey requires him to negotiate and enter into agreements with other political parties to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi during Lok Sabha Elections 2019.

If Congress hopes to come to power at the Centre, the party has to do make serious efforts to improve its performance in Uttar Pradesh

Rahul can learn from BJP on this front. While Narendra Modi is the face of the government, there is Amit Shah who is leading the show from behind and providing all kind of organisation support. Amit Shah is constantly meeting party workers and party leaders to keep them motivated and plug the loopholes that could cost them dearly during the polls. BJP has consciously made efforts to nurture the second line of leadership knowing fully well that one tall leader can pull crowds but winning elections is beyond being a mass leader. He must choose and promote those leaders who have mass appeal and shown strong leadership qualities. Rahul needs to invest his time and energy with young leaders and that should start immediately.

Since he as the leader at the helm of affairs would be held responsible for all the wins and losses, Rahul has to not only steer clear of unnecessary controversies but provide a vision to the party that would enthuse its supporters to rally behind him.

Congress must evolve a strategy to get the party people rid of corrupt mindset that has collectively caused serious setback to the party’s image. Also, more importantly, he must   ensure that his party people do not nourish Hindutva ideology in any manner, thereby helping the BJP and governments. Tolerance for Hindutva promotion is not good for the Congress party that claims to be secular Democratic Party. Already, wrong policies being pursued by Congress party ostensibly to defeat the BJP have alienated Muslims and other minority communities. 

Not many people now trust Congress party.

The end of a fascinating day of two innings 5 days test cricket between guest Lankans and host Indians in India as from a winning position Sri lanka moved on to an almost defeated one but for  poor light  it would have lost to India. Lankan decision to offer a quick 100 to Indian leader Kolhi indeed cost the win of the Lankans. The game was meant to be a draw but Lankans almost helped India win it. India tried tooth and nail in the final session to win this but could not. In the end, the light dipped pretty quickly and India did not have enough time to wrap it up.

Already in a happy mood to violently celibate the victory, Indians are totally disappointed with the shocking lose towards the end.  Rahul is among those top Congress leaders who promoted a school dropout and fake sportboy Sachin tendulkar to the position of Bharatratna. He insulted the honor of India’s highest civilian honor by recommending for a cricketer in order to appease the corporate mafia.

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South Asia

India’s Military Spending and South Asian Security



Over the past several years, unprecedented military modernization in Pakistan’s immediate neighbour, India, has worsened South Asia’s security environment. India’s heavy military spending and its unstoppable quest for the acquisition of sophisticated weapons have threatened regional stability. Indian desire to acquire global power status through military means has further been intensified as a result of US assistance particularly in former’s defence sector. Within quick span of time, defence trade between India and the US has shot from $1 billion to over $15 billion leaving other regional powers in the state of security consciousness.

India’s obsession with its military build-up doesn’t end here. According to the Stockholm International peace Research Institute (SIPRI) a prestigious international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament, India, once again tops the list as world’s largest weapons importer. This is not a new development as previously, India also topped the list for the same reason.

As per SIPRI estimates, Russia remains top arms supplier to India. However, surprisingly arms deliveries from the US increased more than six-fold in the five-year period to the India. This trend in long run will definitely reduce market space for Russian arms and ammunition to India.

Despite the fact that, India’s unbridled military modernization is the primary impetus behind South Asian instability, global power’s economic expediencies in South Asia also undermines delicate conventional parity between India and Pakistan. For instance, Indo-US strategic partnership, which apparently touted as US’ China containment policy, seems more of a Pakistan containment policy. Much of the US provided weapon-tech to India is more useful against Pakistan in a conventional warfare. Almost 70% of Indian military troops and weapon system are deployed against Line of Control, (LOC). Interestingly, peaceful settlement of Docklam issue between China and India as well as sky-rocketing bilateral trade between both countries, which has reached to $84.44 billion last year, makes prospects of conflict almost impossible.

However, in contrast to aforementioned facts, the influx of massive military hardware from western capitals to India continues and in certain cases the flow of arms has gained momentum. There are two primary motives behind India’s overwhelming spending in defence industry.

First, India aspires for greater role in global environment and in certain ways it has been demonstrating its will and capability to influence global dynamics. India’s successful test of Agni-5, a long-range ballistic missile, capable of carrying nuclear weapons with a strike range of more than 3,000 miles, is a practical demonstration of its military capabilities to influence other powers around the globe. For hawkish policy makers in New Delhi, a strong military power can extend India’s global influence.

Secondly, India is following a policy of coercion at regional level primarily, against Pakistan which shares history of hostility and violence due to longstanding territorial disputes such as Kashmir. There is growing perception in New Delhi that militarily strong India can dictate South Asian affairs. That’s why India has been consistently opposing diplomacy and dialogue for peaceful resolution of disputes. Therefore, to meet its foreign policy goals, which are based on coercion and usage of hard power, India spends massive in military build-up.

Ironically, South Asia is called as nuclear flashpoint due to history of animosity and violent conflicts between India and Pakistan. With its mighty military power, India has emerged as the most potent threat for not just Pakistan but also a security challenge for other powers in the region.

Given the advantage it has in terms of nuclear missiles, military hardware and submarine fleet, India has been trying to create an environment conducive to wage limited war against Pakistan. For that, India has not just developed its military doctrine, Cold Start Doctrine, but also initiated and sponsored sub conventional war in Pakistan’s chaotic province, Balochistan.

In such circumstances, Pakistan needs to maintain delicate conventional military balance vis-à-vis India. Despite the fact, Pakistan has been facing number of issues at national, regional and international levels which include on-going military operation in tribal areas to hostile border skirmishes; a robust military modernization plan has become inevitable. A militarily strong Pakistan will be able to maintain its territorial integrity against aggressive yet militarily mighty India.

It’s an open fact that Pakistan has consistently called for peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes and it has offered to resume diplomacy and dialogue over Kashmir dispute. Unfortunately, India’s cold response has not only restricted Pakistan’s peaceful overtures but also refused to accept third-party mediation in peaceful settlement of Kashmir issue. This clearly shows that, current ruling regime in India is not serious for peaceful settlement, rather more inclined to use of force and coercion. Under such circumstances, Pakistan needs to strengthen its force posture to pre-empt any kind of misadventure from its adversary. However, Pakistan, as it has done in past, must embrace peaceful overtures to bring stability in the region.

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South Asia

US Call for a New Relationship



U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad

‘Trust, but verify’ an Old Russian proverb that President Reagan liked to repeat often. Trump is neither the first President nor he is going to be the last to criticize Pakistan of deceit and threaten to cut off American assistance. Notwithstanding, the last six decades of the US support, the US has failed completely in cultivating an ally in Pakistan nor has it meaningfully changed the nature of its relationship with Pakistan, which can be best described as ‘transactional’. A quid-pro-quo relationship between the two has never been established with regards to the assistance they both offered to each other. In truth, United States has never really trusted Pakistan.

President Trump avowed in his New Afghan Strategy that the US has been paying Pakistan ‘billions of billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting for’ but the mantra should be put to a halt. Likewise, the US must be conveyed boldly to stop continuing its false claims that Pakistan shelters the ‘agents of chaos’ and be reminded that friends don’t put each other on notices.

Similarly, statements and avowals that India now is a strongest ally to the US, disturbs Pakistan, chiefly because of the irony at Trump administration’s part which only sees the glittering Indian market but pay no heed to the growing Indian cease fire violations across the LoC and the atrocities India commits against the unarmed civilians of the Indian held Kashmir.

The recent visits and statements however by the senior US officials and Trump’s aides reflect the US call for a new relationship between the US and Pakistan, which once used to be close allies in the US led ‘Global War on Terror’.

Pakistan’s foreign policy makers at this point in time must be mindful of the fact that the US is a major trading partner and should adhere to a relationship more than ‘transactional’. Moreover, the risks and fears at the US part of ‘rampant destabilization and civil war in Afghanistan’ increments further the region already devoid of trust. For, nobody actually knows whether the US will stay or eventually leave Afghanistan.

The Afghan war has now become a war of logistics, in words of Sun Tzu ‘the line between order and disorder lies in logistics’, Pakistani supply lines thus provide Islamabad with a leverage in absence of shorter, cheaper and acceptable alternative routes. Given these circumstances, Pakistan should make best use of the US call towards a more robust bilateral relationship.

The move for a ‘new relationship’ and improved ties began last week with senior Trump aide’s visit to Islamabad to hold talks with Pakistani leaders.  Earlier also the impressions that Pakistan and the US were on a collision course were dispelled by a top US general. Likewise, US department’s acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Alice Wells asserted that the US was not thinking of cutting its ties rather assured that the US still cogitate Pakistan indispensable to the resolve in Afghanistan.

The aforesaid developments clearly indicate that the strained US-Pakistan relations would improve soon and that the suspension in the military aid is also not permanent.

To conclude, achieving long term stability and defeating the insurgency in the region will be difficult without Pakistan’s support and assistance.

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South Asia

Special Economic Zones and CPEC



Economic Expansion, high prices and inflation are the issues on which one can talk for hours. The scarcity of resources, energy crises and lack of industrial modernization are the challenges which Pakistan has been facing for past many decades. Despite the advantages of geographical setting, the country could not sufficiently expand its economy until 20thcentury. However, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brought with it various infrastructural, energy, and industrial projects that show smooth progress in these sectors. One of the most significant developments is the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) under the Long Term Plan (LTP) of CPEC.SEZ is a physically protected area with definite geographic boundaries under which the investors and the developers enjoy duty free benefits and streamlined procedures, set up by the government.  After the successful completion of the Early Harvest Program (EHP), the governments of China and Pakistan aspire to complete the Long Term Plan (LTP) of CPEC. As a key route to success, the LTP has been divided into three phases and the work on the first phase has already started. SEZs are on the first priority list of the first Phase of LTP. While utilizing the strategic location of Pakistan and the rich resources, the SEZ will contribute a framework for Pakistan’s domestic industries, and local economy.

The government has planned to establish nine Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in all the four provinces, federal areas and Gilgit-Baltistan under the framework of CPEC, which would be completed in a period of three years. Pakistan has conducted feasibilities of 5 SEZs which focuses only on the infrastructure. The three prioritized SEZs to be completed in the first phase of LTP are M3 Industrial City in Faisalabad, Punjab, Chinese SEZ Dhabeji, Sindh and Hattar SEZ in KP province. While the remaining six sites include Rashakai Economic Zone, M-1 Noshera, Bostan Industrial Zone District Pishin, AllamaIqbal Industrial City, Moqpondass SEZ in Gilgit-Baltistan, ICT Model Industrial Zone Islamabad, Development of Industrial Park on Pakistan Steel Mills Land at port Qasim near Karachi, Special Economic Zone at Mirpur AJK, Mohmand Marble city.

Although, there are general misunderstandings regarding the industrial ramifications of the SEZ’s under CPEC due to large number of Chinese firms and the exemption in the tax rates offered to them. However, the LTP of CPEC shows that these SEZ’s will offer the country with a great opportunity to accelerate industrialization because they are beneficial for all the international and domestic investors. So far in the history, SEZs have been the reason of economic boost in countries around the globe. Now this is a matter of concern that either these SEZs will make Pakistan a center of economic modernization and trade ventures or not. The economist and financial experts are optimistic about Pakistan’s emergence as one of the fast growing and promising global economy.

While stepping towards the era of industrialization, Pakistan faces a number of issues that have so far refrain the industries to understand their growth potential. Some of the chief hindrances to investment in Pakistan include poor security; non-availability of infrastructure and power crises, rent-seeking regulators, and cumbersome tax administration, etc. among many others.

Likewise the entrepreneurs in Pakistan have certain reservation with the incentives proposed by the government and SEZs for the investors and enterprises including ten-year exemption from all taxes on imported capital goods and exemption from tax on income accruable from development and operations in SEZs for a period of ten years. Although these incentives will be beneficial for the foreign investors at large but at the same time it will provide Pakistani enterprises with the opportunity to collaborate with the Chinese firms and launch joint ventures of mutual interests and benefits. This will be further beneficial for the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of Pakistan. Moreover it will bring Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country thus generating the foreign revenue.

Subsequently it is significant to keep in mind that in Pakistan there are certain security and political factors due to which the SEZ’s may face challenges. Hence forth to conquer these challenges provincial harmony among all the provinces and mutual consensus between the public sector and private sector is needed. SEZs under CPEC will be a life-time opportunity for Pakistani companies to work together with Chinese companies for the development of export-oriented manufacturing industries. Therefore, Pakistan should increase its products in the Chinese market and raise the ratio of its export while decreasing the trade deficit by lowering the imports.

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