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India: Rahul Gandhi set to become Congress President

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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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Post-UNGA: Kashmir is somewhere between abyss and fear

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Hailed as a hero for calling out New Delhi’s draconian measures in occupied Kashmir, Imran Khan warned the world of a “bloodbath” once India lifts its lockdown of Jammu and Kashmir. He persuaded global leaders to denounce the brutalities and human rights violations unleashed on Kashmiris ever since the disruption of the decades old status quo, which had been granted by the symbolic autonomy of Articles 370 and 35(A) within the Indian constitution. The constitutional coup d état ensures the alienation of Kashmiris in IOK beyond the point of redemption with massive spillover effects across the LOC. Pakistan is home to 4,045,366 self-governed and independent Kashmiris as per the 2017 census, who are desired of more than a political and diplomatic support for their brothers in IOK. India and Pakistan have already fought three wars on the Kashmir issue.

Focusing on the brazen denial of core human values, Imran Khan prognosticated a more radicalized world as the scourge of radicalism finds more fodder in a discriminated society. If climate change is ignored, the clichés of religious affiliation continues and the inherent right of self-determination remains disregarded, violent reaction is inevitable. He said, “we all know that marginalisation leads to radicalization”… “No one did research that before 9-11, the majority of suicide bombers in the world were Tamil Tigers. They were Hindus”, but Hindus rightly escaped the blame since belief and religion has nothing to do with desperation.

Imran Khan talked more like Gandhi than the nation of Gandhi itself. He reminded the world of the reincarnation of the progrom and racial ridden medieval periods when religion and state were inseparable .It has reshaped and now resides more in inter-state relations while negatively stirring regional cooperation and globalization. Already enwrapped in a world of deprivation, the fifth largest population of South Asia is fearfully seen at the brink of a nuclear war with there being very few options left for a seven times smaller nuclear state of Pakistan, which has been already driven to the wall. The speech was well received and touched a chord with many Kashmiris reeling under the unprecedented communications blackout and travel restrictions in place since August 5.

“It felt like there is someone to watch our back. It felt that someone is talking for us, that we are not alone”, was the feeling commonly displayed. Hundreds of affected Kashmiri stakeholders came out of their homes, shouting slogans in support of Imran Khan and calling for the independence of Kashmir despite the movement restrictions and deployment of additional force by India in Srinagar.A fresh charge sheet has also been filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India against the chief of Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, (JKLF) Yasin Malik, and other leaders including Asiya Andrabi, and Masarat Alam on October 4, 2019.

Conjuring up his dystopian vision, Prime Minister Modi made no mention of the disputed region of Kashmir in his read-out speech at the UN along the lines of diplomatically bureaucratic explanation. He only ticked the fanciful boxes of development, progress, and world peace, annihilation of terrorism and protection of environment. This speech however, was soon followed by a threat from his own government’s defence minister calling for the liberation of Pakistani Administered Kashmir as the next step in India’s quest for regional dominance.

Moreover, Imran Khan has also expressed his fears in his erstwhile meetings with Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. Trump has offered mediation, but only if both Pakistan and India agree. A senior US diplomat for South Asia called for a lowering of rhetoric between India and Pakistan, while saying that Washington hoped to see rapid action by India to lift restrictions it has imposed in Kashmir and the release of detainees there. Similarly, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, in his address to the General Assembly on 27 September stated that,;”The Kashmir issue, a dispute left from the past, should be peacefully and properly addressed in accordance with the UN Charter, Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements.”

Nonetheless, an arrogant denial by India to the support of Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir by Turkey and Malaysia is more of an inept understanding of diplomacy and international commitment. India needs to step out of the skeptical comprehension of the role of the UN that was pronounced by Ms. Vidisha Maitra India’s Permanent Mission to the UN. The sway of diplomatic terms espoused with preconceived historical interpretations could be misguiding for political leaders. Modi needs to keep his ears close to the ground to save his political future. It is an extensional battle for Kashmiris. No concertina wire can blur the contradiction in his approach to the issue, “when they are in India they say it is an internal issue and when they are on the international forums, they consider it a bilateral issue,” said one of the residents of Srinagar. Confusion exacerbates the fear, which consequently becomes a forerunner to terrorism. Same goes for the US whose mediator’s role gets paradoxical by Trump’s close alliance with Modi in his perusal of Asia-Pacific policy. Though, Imran Khan is perpetually using his political and diplomatic influence proactively, to mobilize both the international community and his own people, the anti-India feeling, the pro-militancy sensitivity and the general sense of despair — is stronger than before in Kashmir.

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Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse

Haris Bilal Malik

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The Kashmir issue has more significance in view of the nuclearization of South Asia as many security experts around the world consider Kashmir a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan. The revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir by the BJP government on August 5, 2019, also referred to as Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir has since considerably increased political and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan. India’s recent moves and actions in Kashmir have once again internationalized the Kashmir dispute. This was evident during the UN General Assembly’s 74th Session, where the Kashmir issue remained a crucial agenda item for several countries.

During this year’s session prominent leaders of the world condemned Indian brutalities in Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the international community for failing to pay attention to the Kashmir conflict and called for dialogue to end this dispute. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that Kashmir “has been invaded and occupied” by India despite the UN resolution on the issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also discussed the issue and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Based on the grave importance of Kashmir as a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the UNGA warned the world community about the dangers of a nuclear war that according to him might break out over Kashmir due to Indian atrocities. The current situation appears to be the most critical time for both the countries and the region as both countries are nuclear-armed.

However, unfortunately, the Indian leaders and media perceived Prime Minister Imran Khan’s warning as a nuclear threat and termed it as ‘brinkmanship’. Contrary to this perspective, it is worth mentioning here that the Indian leadership itself is involved in negative nuclear signaling and war hysteria against Pakistan in recent months. For instance, the 2019 Indian General Election campaign of Prime Minister Modi was largely based on negative nuclear signaling comprising of several threats referring to the possible use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Furthermore, as an apparent shift from India’s ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy, on August 16, 2019Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while on a visit to the Pokhran nuclear test site paid tribute to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asserted that India might review its NFU policy. He stated that a change in future circumstances would likely define the status of India’s NFU policy. Since then there is no official denial of this assertion from India which indicates that India might abandon its NFU policy.

Moreover, India’s offensive missile development programs and its growing nuclear arsenal which include; hypersonic missiles, ballistic missile defence systems, enhanced space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance and the induction of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile-capable submarines clearly indicate that India’s nuclear weapons modernization is aimed at continuously enhancing its deterrence framework including its second-strike capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. This is also evident from India’s military preparations under its more recent doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD)which are also based upon more proactive offensive strategies and indirect threats of pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems likely that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and a potential superpower. The BJP government under Prime Minister Modi inspired by the Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures under the notions of ‘a more Muscular or Modern India’ based on strong military preparedness. In such circumstances, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain increasingly inclined towards its eastern border. Pakistan due to its economic constraints would also likely face considerable difficulties in competing with India toe to toe with respect to its military modernization plans. Pakistan is already punching well above its weight, and nuclear deterrence would be the only way through which Pakistan can maintain a precise balance of power to preserve its security. This could only be carried out by deterring India with the employment of both minimum credible deterrence and full-spectrum deterrence capabilities. This posture clearly asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression.

Hence, at the present India’s forceful annexation of occupied Kashmir and the resultant nuclear discourse at the UNGA has further intensified Pakistan-India tensions. Under present circumstances, the situation could easily trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has bet his political reputation on his move to annex the region and his political career is on the line. The same way Pakistan’s politico-military establishment is equally unlikely back down from its stance on Kashmir. It would be difficult for both countries to come down from the escalation ladder because politico-military reputations would be at stake at both ends. Consequently, Pakistan might be forced to take action before India’s modernization plans get ahead and might respond even sooner.

The nuclear discourse in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech against the backdrop of the Kashmir crisis at such a high forum like UNGA would likely keep the issue internationalized. The situation demands the UN fulfill its responsibility of ensuring peace and to prevent billions of people from the dangers of a nuclear war. However, Indian blame game, aggressive behavior and offensive nuclear signaling against Pakistan all present a clear warning of nuclear war. It would greatly limit the prospects for international mediation especially by the United Nations whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future.  

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1.2 trillion rupees on the move: Modi’s greatest piece of purchase yet

Sisir Devkota

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Last week, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) was taken aback by more than a surprise. Just when it was dealing with the uncomfortable series of events that led to the transfer of surplus 1.2 trillion rupees into the government of India; social media erupted. It quickly realized that losing the battle regarding the transfer would only add fuel to the hoax of closing down nine commercial banks. RBI enjoys considerable amount of autonomy and independence in the largest democracy, and still, it had to kneel down to Modi’s alleged quick fix.

The RBI would have to vouch for the government in times of need, it is primarily what is expected of the institution; but there was a great deal of discomfort in how the government justified it. A committee set up under the ex-governor, Mr Bimal Jalan, cited how central banks would not need so much of surplus to carry out their affairs. Effectively, it was an order, not a request, which became the underlying discomfort behind RBI’s hesitancy in adhering to the views of capital transfer committee. Not that anyone expected the central lender to protest longer, it did however, request Mr Jalan to reconsider the decision at the face of various consequences. To say the least, it was embarrassing for a premier financial institution to be put under the public eye. The social media hoax was another ridicule of the sickly RBI. In the tales of grand conquests, the victorious army steals the wealth from the losing party. Similarly, the BJP led government in India are redefining all forms of state tools in favour of their interests.

Stolen wealth is most often than not used to correct economic blunders. Just like in the tales of grand conquests, the decision to transfer national wealth from the reserve bank is nothing new. It is nevertheless baffling, that the money transfer is looping in the same direction. While the BJP government in India were imposing a comprehensive GST (Goods and Service Tax) policy, they would not have anticipated complaints from large industries over decreased consumer consumption. For a party that is now known to redefine the legitimacy of governance, falling prey to NBFC’s (Non-bank Financial Companies) incompetence or bankruptcy is a visible defeat. Unlike many other soaring economies, there are large group of subsidiary lenders operating in India. On hindsight, economic policies are barely creating tunnels through which the capital is getting recycled in the same loop. Revenues are not generating further revenues. It is merely closing down on its self-inflicted gap.

The Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) almost played with fire. Uncharacteristically, it proposed a framework to work together with the RBI in order to claim outstanding defaults from high value clients. The RBI was never going to agree with a defaming offer as such but the incident did fuel the argument of capital shuffling. It only makes the bluff look more real. A strategic plan to counter all measures that would have blocked the transfer of trillions. As Mr Jalan sheepishly implied how the importance of central bank and what is does is only limited to the public perception, RBI fought a fix in between larger or rather dangerous political agendas. Consolidating requests from SEBI to only fall into the whims of the government shows the lack lustre personality of the central funding institution. For the time being, Narendra Modi has his way, a theft of national treasure-like his opposition colleague Rajiv Gandhi expressed in the media. However, there will also be a far-fetched evaluation of Modi’s actions. A move of 1.2 trillion rupees in the same pot. Not by any means, a cunning cover up.

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