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Rahul Gandhi in a new avatar

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Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi, File Photo

By Amulya Ganguli 

Rahul Gandhi’s coronation as the Congress president next month is taking place at the right time for him and the party.

Over the last two months, he has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis. It is difficult to say why this change has taken place, but there is little doubt about its reality.

From someone who tried to cover up his inadequacies in the fields of ideas and oratory by his shrillness in parliament and outside, Rahul Gandhi has suddenly become calm and composed — a person who can articulate his views cogently and is not afraid to mock himself by saying that he has been called “stupid” by a section of netizens ostensibly associated with the saffron camp.

Little wonder, therefore, that his election rallies in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, and especially in Gujarat, have drawn more enthusiastic crowds than during his earlier campaigns in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

His maturity, too, is evident from his decision to dispense with as a propaganda ploy the popular jibe on the social media about vikas or development growing crazy in Gujarat since he does not want any disrespect to be shown towards the Prime Minister. It is possible that the refined genes of the Nehru-Gandhi family are coming to the fore.

It is for this reason that senior leaders like Sharad Pawar are no longer averse to dealing directly with him instead of preferring Sonia Gandhi.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is no longer taking him lightly, as can be seen from the harshness of Narendra Modi’s attacks on the Congress — or “termites”, as he has called it — and his charge about the intense dislike of Gujarat which the Congress and the dynasty apparently harbour against the state.

Clearly, if the BJP is sanguine about winning 150-plus seats in Gujarat as a step towards ushering in a Congress-mukt India, then there would not have been the need for the Prime Minister to spend so much time campaigning in a single state, especially when it is regarded as his bailiwick.

Or for the BJP to raise the inevitable suspicion that it persuaded the Election Commission to delay for a few weeks the announcement of the poll dates in Gujarat so that some more sops for the electorate could be rolled out by the state government before the model code of conduct came into force.

The BJP’s nervousness about the unexpected challenge posed by someone whom it routinely derided as Pappu or an adolescent might have been exacerbated by the sudden praise heaped on Rahul Gandhi by a spokesman of the BJP’s ally, the Shiv Sena, who even said that the Congress vice-president was capable of becoming the Prime Minister — a possibility to which neither Rahul Gandhi’s friends or foes had alluded to before.

The ascent of the Nehru-Gandhi scion is also timely where the Congress is concerned. There is little doubt that the party has come out of the slough of despond into which it had sunk in the aftermath of its poorest-ever performance in the last general election.

One reason why it is no longer going about in a daze is its marginal recovery from the 2014 drubbing because of the party’s successes in the Punjab assembly elections and in the by-election in Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh, where it increased its vote share.

Besides, the party occupied the No. 1 position in the Goa and Manipur assemblies before the BJP lured away some of the its legislators.

The Congress is also exuding greater confidence because of the belief that it is on the verge of a generational shift which cannot but breathe new life into the party as its old guard retreats into the background and a younger lot — Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan, Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh — takes charge.

Their leader, Rahul Gandhi, in his new, less arrogant avatar is expected to play a crucial role at the national level along with other youngsters who are likely to be his allies such as Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh and Tejashvi Yadav in Bihar although the latter is hamstrung by the taint of his father, Lalu Prasad’s fodder scam.

It is not that all those who are 70-plus will be put out to pasture as the BJP has done with its “margdarshak mandali” or visionary group comprising L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and others.

In the Congress, chief ministers like Amarinder Singh and Siddaramaiah will continue to play important roles. But Rahul Gandhi’s supremacy will not be in doubt just as Sonia Gandhi’s isn’t.

To many, the preponderance of the dynasty may be the fly in the ointment. No doubt the Congress’s opponents will press this point with increasing vehemence as the party shows signs of recovery via the successes of its student wing, the National Students Union of India, and its allies in the students’ union elections as in Delhi university, Allahahad university and Kashi Vidyapith. In the last two institutions, the Samajwadi Party’s students’ wing won over the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the BJP’s student wing.

But the fact that the Congress is no longer a pushover is evident if only because it is gaining from the BJP’s missteps on the economy and its failure to control the militants in its ranks as can be seen from the threats that are being made against the director and actors of the film, “Padmavati”, because it does not conform to the saffron version of medieval Indian history.

IANS

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal.)

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SFJ annouces $1M aid for agitating farmers, agencies vigilant

The SFJ had announced anti-India campaign, ‘Referendum-2020’, in November this year to seek secession of Punjab from India.

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Farmers Delegation

New Delhi: As thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are rallying at Delhi’s three interstate border points, banned secessionist group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) is trying to fish in troubled waters by announcing $1 million aid for farmers who suffered injuries or damage to their vehicles while facing police action in Haryana.

The information has sent security agencies into a tizzy, with many deployed on protest spots in plainclothes to keep a close tab on SFJ supporters who may mingle with protesters as part of their “ill-intention” to lure innocent farmers and take undue advantage of the situation in the name of helping them.

In its recent announcement through a social media platform, the SFJ said it will provide $1 million aid to farmers from “Punjab and Haryana who have suffered bodily injuries or damage to their vehicles while facing police action during their hard-fought journey to Delhi”.

The SFJ’s message mentions its plan for opening a 24-hour call centre on November 30 in the US, Canada, the UK, France and Germany to accept online applications from farmers of Punjab and Haryana to reimburse for their losses and also to register votes for its “Khalistan Referendum”.

“SFJ is kick-starting the Khalistan Referendum voting from London on August 15, 2021 for the independence of Punjab,” mentions the message circulated by SFJ’s US-based General Counsel and group’s key leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun — designated a terrorist by the Indian government.

Assuring farmers of Punjab and Haryana that the SFJ will bear all the losses they have suffered, Pannun stated that “once Punjab is liberated from Indian occupation, the loans of the farmers will be waived and free power supply granted”.

The group has also threatened to take up the matter at the international level if the Indian government did not repeal its three contentious farm laws enacted in September.

“If the Modi government does not scrap the farm bills, as demanded by the farmers, SFJ will initiate legal action against India at the international level with the backing of various kisan organisations,” Pannun said in the message.

Security establishment, including anti-terror agencies, have since intensified efforts against the group banned by the MHA via a notification dated July 10 last year under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) following its “anti-India activities” to disrupt law and order in the country.

However, the security officials maintained, no suspicious activity of the group has been noticed in the national capital or in the interstate border areas so far, even as central agencies are keeping a strict vigil to avoid any untoward activity.

It is the third such message circulated by the SFJ in the past one week. The SFJ earlier this week had called upon farmers of Punjab and Haryana to raise Khalistan flag at the India Gate here on the 12th anniversary of a terrorist attack in Mumbai on November 26, following which the national capital was put on high alert.

The SFJ had announced anti-India campaign, ‘Referendum-2020’, in November this year to seek secession of Punjab from India.

The move followed inputs that the Sikh community across India has rejected the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) sponsored propaganda of ‘Referendum-2020’. Pakistani intelligence agency ISI has been backing the malicious campaign launched by the SFJ as a large number of Pakistani Twitter handles have started tweeting in favour of the so-called ‘Referendum’.

Dubbing Sikhs in Kashmir as “freedom fighters and Sikh soldiers”, the US-based Khalistani radical outfit has urged them to support its most infamous agenda, ‘Referendum-2020’.

The group is already on the radar of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has been taking action against its key leaders such as Pannun and many others. In the beginning of September, based on NIA’s inputs, the MHA had issued an order to attach the properties of Pannun and SFJ’s Canada coordinator Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

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Punjabi diaspora worried, shocked over ‘brutality’ against farmers

“Farmers are peacefully protesting over controversial bills that will impact their livelihoods. Water cannons and tear gas, are being used to silence them.”

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Farmers Beaten

Chandigarh, Nov 29: The planned protest against new farm laws and the ‘brutality’ of the security forces by lobbing teargas shells and using water cannons to stop the peaceful march of the farmers towards the national capital has left the diaspora largely from Canada worried and shocked.

They asked the Indian government to engage in an open dialogue with the farmers as their livelihoods are going to be impacted.

Expressing solidarity with the farmers, Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the reports of peaceful protesters being brutalized were very troubling.

“Many of my constituents have family there and are worried about the safety of their loved ones. Healthy democracies allow peaceful protest. I urge those involved to uphold this fundamental right,” he tweeted on Sunday.

Joining the issue, Sonia Sidhu, MP for Brampton South, Canada, tweeted, “I received many messages from constituents concerned in Brampton South about the situation in India.

“My residents told me how worried they are about the protests of the Punjab farmers. I share their concerns and hope that the situation will be resolved peacefully.”

Joining her counterpart, Ruby Sahota, MP for Brampton (North), said the determination and resilience of the farmers is admirable.

“In a free and just society one should be able to advocate for their cause without the threat of force being used against them. The brutality being faced by the Indian farmers in these images is deplorable,” she said in a tweet.

Joining the cause, Chandigarh-born Rachna Singh, Parliament Secretary of British Columbia, said she was really saddened by the way Punjab farmers are being treated. “This is unacceptable.”

Describing the violence perpetrated by the Indian government against farmers peacefully protesting is appalling, Canada’s New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted: “I stand in solidarity with the farmers from Punjab and across India — and, I call on the Indian government to engage in peaceful dialogue rather than violence”

He thanked Jack Harris, MP for St. John’s East, for his advocacy.

“We are shocked to see the Indian government’s suppression of farmers protesting new laws which will endanger their livelihood. Instead of using water cannons and tear gas, the Indian government needs to engage in open dialogue with farmers,” said Harris.

“Peaceful protests are fundamental in any democracy, and I urge for the rights of the protestors to be respected,” said Navdeep Bains, MP for Mississauga-Malton.

“Shocking scenes from Delhi,” remarked MP from Britain, Preet Kaur Gill.

“Farmers are peacefully protesting over controversial bills that will impact their livelihoods. Water cannons and tear gas, are being used to silence them.”

Tracing his roots to a farmer family, Indo-Canadian politician Gurratan Singh said the images of police brutality were horrific.

“I come from a family of farmers. I feel the pain and struggle of farmers protesting laws that threaten their livelihoods. The state continues to meet peaceful protestors with violence and brutality,” he tweeted along with the video of his speech made by him in the Ontario Assembly.

“Farmers are the backbone of our society. They feed cities, and right now they are under attack in India. Folks in my riding are concerned about new laws that are passed by the Indian government that are going to hurt the farmers in Punjab, Haryana and others across India.

“That’s why I am asking all the members of this House to come together to stand with farmers against these unjust laws passed by the Indian government, so farmers in India can live with respect and dignity that they deserve,” Gurratan Singh said in his speech.

Standing with farmers in India, Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, Andrea Horwath, said: “Everyone deserves to be able to exercise their democratic rights without fear of state-sanctioned violence”.

Canadian MP Tim Uppal posted, “India’s farmers deserve to be heard and respected. This is horrific.”

The farmers are protesting against the farm laws as they feel that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporate entities.

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The new team in Washington surveys West Asia Trump leaves behind

To point fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood (Akhwan ul Muslimeen) as the enemy would isolate most of the GCC Sheikhdoms from the larger Muslim ‘Umma’. They would then be perceived as only the ‘Wahabi’ sect of the Sunni world.

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Joe Biden

New Delhi, Nov 29: For the new team being announced by the Biden administration any innovation can only follow repair work of the considerable wreckage that is being left behind by the outgoing team.

At this moment of transition, what construct does one place on the outgoing Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s participation in the cloak-and-dagger meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in the mega city of Neom being built on the Red Sea? The drama of this meeting was heightened by Netanyahu’s office denying the meeting in tones which seemed to suggest that the Israelis were not busting their guts to keep the meeting secret. A pretense of secrecy was essential because otherwise ‘MBS’ would be in ‘trouble’.

Netanyahu’s Education Minister, Yoav Galant, could not contain his joy at the “amazing achievement” because the “Sunni world” was joining the Israel-US alliance to counter “Iranian Shiite extremism”.

This Shia-Sunni confrontation, real or simulated, has been the game ever since the Shah was toppled in Iran. Why then this secrecy now? Why is MBS so scared being seen in an embrace with Netanyahu on Saudi soil? Because his people will find out? Do his people matter? But it turns out that human rights is an article of faith with the incoming Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. This may well be a source of anxiety not just for Saudi Arabia but all monarchies and authoritarian systems. Are there any in our vicinity?

A hint about MBS’s source of anxiety was available in the other crucial meeting the Saudi king had with President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. The Turkish strongman is part of a quadrangle which both, Washington (the incoming administration) and MBS, Netanyahu too, should by analyzing.

After the Soviet collapse in 1991, it was elementary that creating a distance between Moscow and Beijing would remain a US strategic goal. But George W Bush and his deluded neo-cons asked for the moon — full spectrum global dominance into the American century. The financial crisis of 2008 rapped them hard on the knuckles. American decline was well underway when Trump greased the downward slide even more effectively.

The evolving Biden team will contemplate at the menacing quadrangle I mentioned at the outset. To begin with, Moscow and Beijing have never been closer. The duet spotted the potential of Iran too, and included it in the club. After all, Washington is just about to dust up the Iranian nuclear file for a resumption of a conversation with Tehran.

No sooner had Trump lost the election, when Imran Khan was on his maiden trip to Kabul. This, when the US troop withdrawal from the Afghan capital had run into the sort of snags which US representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad was trying to sort out. Was the Pakistan Prime Minister now effectively being positioned to handle the Afghan file? This became a very real anxiety in both Tehran and New Delhi. But Iran being re-invited on the nuclear file, mollifies it somewhat. How happy New Delhi should be with its exertions in the Quad (US, Australia, Japan, India) only time can tell. The Japanese Foreign Minister has already clarified: our membership of the Quad is not directed against any country.

So, while the US was on the Trump rollercoaster and coping with the social mayhem and galloping Covid, other countries were moving increasingly in concert. There has been so much continuous chanting of the Shia-Sunni conflict that real and abiding antipathies have been lost sight of.

A convenient point of departure to explain this narrative are the two events in December, 1979, which rattled the Saudis, indeed the world — Ayatollah Khomeini’s return, signaling the Iranian revolution. Around the same date, an anti-monarchy, Sunni, an extreme version of the Muslim Brotherhood, Juhayman al-Otaybi, defied the Saudi state by occupying the holiest Muslim mosque of Mecca.

Unable to flush out Otaybi and his armed supporters, Saudis sought Western help. A situation emerged which to a non Muslim would read like a situation comedy. Since non Muslims are not allowed in Mecca, US and French soldiers had to be converted to Islam to enter the mosque and accomplish the holy task of killing Otaybi and his men. This “rebellion within” gives Saudis nightmares. But they feel more secure externalizing the threat. They have persistently targeted Iran and Shiaism as threats to themselves, Israel, indeed, the West. When did you last hear of the 15 days siege of the Mecca Mosque?

To point fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood (Akhwan ul Muslimeen) as the enemy would isolate most of the GCC Sheikhdoms from the larger Muslim ‘Umma’. They would then be perceived as only the ‘Wahabi’ sect of the Sunni world.

Incalculable Saudi wealth, particularly after the quadrupling of oil prices following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, had the Western Military Industrial Complex salivating on Arab petro dollars. The oil rich Sheikhs are, by formal agreements, dependent on Western arms. Their wealth plus their links to Israel give them considerable control on Western media which has quite shockingly harped only on the Shia-Sunni conflict.

When the Arab Spring dethroned Hosni Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s Prime Minister. Coming to power of a Brother in Egypt caused the Saudis to load their camels with their billions and turn up in Cairo to stabilize Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s coup in Cairo. Brothers in power in Egypt was anathema to the Israelis too because the Hamas in Gaza would now have help from all sides. Brother in Turkey, Qatar and Egypt. They were ideologically coherent with Hamas.

At the Shia end, the Hezbullah in Lebanon, Iran, the Alawi elements in the Syrian Army, the Shia majority in Iraq, Houthis of Yemen are all supporting the Palestinian cause to the hilt.

No, it is not the Shia Sunni divide which is bothering MBS and Netanyahu. What worries them deeply is the Shia-Sunni combine zeroing in on the Israelis and the Wahabis in unlikely comradeship.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])

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