Connect with us
rahul-gandhi rahul-gandhi

Blog

Rahul Gandhi’s hands full of challenges as party chief, needs new formulas

Published

on

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s long-delayed elevation as party chief is eventually taking place at a time when Congress faces an “existential crisis”, as a party leader put it, and has huge electoral challenges in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Gandhi, 47, will be the sixth member of Nehru-Gandhi family to take the top position of the 132-year old party.

The change at the top is coming on the eve of assembly polls in Gujarat and the outcome there would be interpreted in terms of Rahul Gandhi’s ability as a campaigner and vote getter.

But the next round of assembly polls in 2018 — first in Karnataka and later in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — will be absolutely crucial for Rahul Gandhi for building the momentum to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha polls. The state elections, with Bharatiya Janata Party as the key rival, will also be first major polls directly under Rahul Gandhi’s charge as party chief. Assembly polls will also be held early next year in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura.

The challenges for Rahul Gandhi include fostering a new energy and enthusiasm in the Congress and evolving a new strategy to galvanise the party after a string of electoral losses since the 2014 Lok Sabha debacle. The Congress has to work hard at the grassroots to take on the relentless election machine of BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party chief Amit Shah.

Gandhi has to take a call on forging a larger opposition alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls under a “collective leadership” or projecting himself as the alternative against Modi with support of different parties. He was the face of Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Gandhi has been perceived as a reluctant politician due to some of his longish trips abroad, the delay in stepping up to the role of party chief, his not taking up a ministerial responsibility in two UPA governments and not properly following through some of the issues he raised.

Of late, he has been able to counter the perception with his sharp and aggressive attacks on Modi and the BJP. A trip to the United States where he had had interactions with think tanks appeared to have done a sea change to the image about him.

In Gujarat, where success will be a big morale-booster for the Congress, Gandhi has sought to create a broad social coalition and has forced Modi to react.

Congress’ only major success since its debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls has been Punjab while the BJP, in comparison, has tremendously expanded its footprint by winning states it had never done in the past. The BJP is making efforts to expand its base in states it has been weak including West Bengal, Kerala, Odisha and Tamil Nadu.

Another major challenge for Rahul Gandhi is to revive Congress in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the largest contingent of 80 MPs to parliament. Gandhi has twice led the party’s campaign in the assembly polls but had come a cropper.Rahul Gandhi

The results of the recent local body polls in Amethi and Rae Bareli, the Lok Sabha constituencies of Rahul Gandhi and his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, have not been flattering for his image.

Congress has shrunk electorally, being now the fourth player in states such as Bihar, third in states such as West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu as also Delhi. In the polls held to various assemblies since 2014, it has largely finished third or fourth. Sections, which were strongly with the party including Dalits, have drifted away.

Rahul Gandhi had been projected as a young leader who understands the language and idiom of the youth but Modi has been more successful in weaning away the section that has large electoral presence. The Congress also has to devise ways to woo the large middle class.

Gandhi, who is stepping into shoes of his mother Sonia Gandhi who helmed Congress for 19 years including 10 as the chief of the party heading the ruling coalition at the Centre, will need to be dexterous in his dealings with allies as also other opposition parties such as the CPI-M.

The crumbling of the ruling alliance in Bihar has been a setback for the party.

Senior leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Lalu Prasad have a comfort level with Sonia Gandhi and it remains to be seen how Rahul Gandhi fits into the role.

Within the party, Gandhi has to take several decisions including whether to project chief ministerial candidates in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan and who they will be.

Bringing about unity in faction-ridden state units and making the balance between the “old guard” and the younger aspirants will be other challenges.

Congress had to project nonagenarian Virbhadra Singh as chief ministerial candidate in Himachal Pradesh in the absence of a younger acceptable option.

Congress is now ruling only five states and a union territory and if it loses Gujarat and Karanataka next year, its chances of staging a comeback in 2019 will be further squeezed.

Though Gandhi’s experiments to democratise the party’s youth organisations have not entirely succeeded, he has had some political successes, including forcing the Modi government to go back on its proposed changes in the land acquisition Act.

The concerted opposition attack on the “flawed” implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) as also perception of unease among traders in poll-bound Gujarat has apparently forced the government to extend several concessions.

But the Congress or other opposition parties could not reap political dividends on demonetisation though it caused a lot inconvenience to people.

Though Gandhi had promised to “involve people in ways you cannot even imagine now” after the party lost in Delhi in 2013 assembly polls, the party fared far worse in the next polls.

Gandhi, who is into his third term as Lok Sabha MP, was made party vice-president in 2013 as a stepping stone to his eventual elevation.

Blog

Which of Vajpayee’s bequests will the BJP honour?

Published

on

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

It cannot be gainsaid that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as it is run today, will find it difficult to live up to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s legacy of moderation.

From this aspect, his death has come at an inconvenient time for the party because there will be constant reminders during the run-up to the four state assembly elections this winter about Vajpayee’s gentleness, which was his foremost political talent.

This will be particularly relevant in the matter of rhetoric which has tended to become increasingly acerbic in recent times. The chances of the speeches becoming more venomous are all the greater when the BJP’s prospects are not supposed to be all that bright in the key states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, as a poll survey has predicted.

Therefore, as caustic comparisons are made between aristocratic lineage and the humble background of a worker — naamdar and kaamdar — Vajpayee’s more temperate oratory may be recalled.

It was Vajpayee’s moderation which enabled him to hold together for more than three years from 1999 to 2002 a mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) of as many as 24 parties, the likes of which had never been seen before and is unlikely to be seen in the future.

The achievement will appear all the more remarkable at a time when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre is fraying at the edges with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) having walked out while the Shiv Sena is forever engaged in verbal onslaughts against the BJP and the Akali Dal is patently uneasy.

What is more, doubts are being expressed as to whether the BJP will be able to form a coalition at the Centre if it fails to secure a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha in 2019 because Modi is seemingly temperamentally averse to act in tandem with others. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s restiveness is a reminder of this proclivity at the NDA’s highest levels.

If Vajpayee’s accommodativeness cannot be seen in the BJP today, neither is its ability to push ahead with the economic reforms as during the former Prime Minister’s reign when several PSUs such as Modern Foods, Balco and Hindustan Zinc were disinvested. In contrast, the present government has not been able to find a buyer for the perennially sick Air India.

However, the most crucial of Vajpayee’s legacies is the peace which prevailed in his time till the Gujarat riots of 2002, which paved the way for his defeat two years later as he ruefully conceded.

Before the riots, however, there was nothing like the present near-anarchic scenes which have made the Supreme Court bemoan the prevailing mobocracy as the “new normal” and the Centre to consider enacting a law to stop lynchings.

It would be a mistake, however, to claim that Vajpayee did no wrong. The targeting of Tehelka and Outlook magazines beause of their embarrassing disclosures about the unsavoury goings-on in high places is a reminder that no government — not even Vajpayee’s — can be tolerant of a genuinely free press.

It is an unworthy legacy going back to Rajiv Gandhi’s abortive attempt to muzzle the media with his proposed Publication of Objectionable Materials Act in the wake of the Bofors howitzer scam, not to mention his mother’s draconian Emergency rule.

But, for Vajpayee, it was an uncharacteristic misstep in the misuse of the Enforcement Directorate and other government agencies, which has largely been forgotten. What is remembered instead is the fact that of all the saffron leaders, he was the only one who had the Nehruvian vision of the “idea” of a multicultural India.

It was this broad outlook which made Vajpayee urge the Jan Sangh in 1960 to open its doors to “all Indian citizens irrespective of creed or sects”. Noting that at least formally, the party is opposd to politics being linked with religion, he said that “in the partition of the country, we have already had a grim experience of the consequences of mingling politics with religion”.

Not surprisingly, Vajpayee was not a favourite of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) despite the swayamsevak tag that he wore all his life, which is why one of the RSS chiefs of his time, K.S. Sudarshan, wanted his as well as L.K. Advani’s ouster from positions of power by calling for a generational change in the BJP.

Incidentally, Sudarshan was believed to have prevailed upon Vajpayee on the eve of the ministry-making in 1998 not to make Jaswant Singh the finance minister since he was not a true-blue (true-saffron) Sanghi.

Now that a generational change has taken place in the BJP, it has to be seen how many of Vajpayee’s inheritances are honoured and how many disregarded.

If his moderation does not gell with the party’s aggressive pro-Hindu line, which made observers say that Vajpayee was the right man in the wrong party, the BJP can at least acknowledge his adulation of Jawaharal Nehru (whom the party likes to dislike at present) as Bharat Mata’s “favourite prince”. As Vajpayee’s accolade to Nehru showed, not all naamdars are to be shunned.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected] )

Continue Reading

Blog

Kofi Annan, global statesman, architect of UN development goals

He rose to become the head of UN peacekeeping operations in 1993 and a under Secretary-General in 1994.

Published

on

Kofi Annan

United Nations, Aug 18 (IANS) Kofi Annan, the gentle global statesman who died on Saturday, led the world body for two terms during which brought focus to development as the foundation of peace and security.

During his tenure from January 1997 to December 2006 as Secretary General, he steered the UN in making development a top priority, even as he guided it through through several crises, among them the heightened post 9/11 terrorist threats, the Afghan and Iraq wars, the Balkan conflicts which saw the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II, and the liberation of East Timor.

In 2001, he and the UN received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Current Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his tribute called “Kofi Annan a guiding force for good”.

“He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world,” he added.

Kofi Annan Manmohan Singh

The late UN Secretary-Geneeral Kofi Annan meet former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 in New Delhi. (Photo: UN/IANS)

Annan was outspoken at times, but always maintained dignity and upheld the best traditions of diplomacy, leaving the way open for consensus.

The Ghanian diplomat was 80 when he died, surrounded by his Swedish wife Nane, and his children — Ama, Kojo and Nina — the Kofi Annan Foundation said.

The Millenial Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by world leaders at their 2000 Summit under his leadership continue to inspire the UN as it works with renewed efforts like the current Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Kofi Annan’s significant contribution to the MDGs will always be remembered.”

During his 2005 visit to India, Annan said in New Delhi: “Development is the subject of the first and longest chapter in the report, which maps out a detailed and practical strategy for reaching the MDGs by 2015.”

Annan also advocated Security Council reform, a goal dear to India. He said during the visit that while the reform should be reached by consensus, the lack of consensus should not become an excuse for postponing action.

Among his other accomplishments as the UN head, were starting reforms of the UN bureaucracy and structure, setting up of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council.

His worst days as Secretary General, he later recounted, was the powerlessness to do anything about the US-led Iraq War in 2003 that sparked a catastrophe in the Middle East that the region was yet to recover from.

More recently Annan led an effort to resolve the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, heading a commission at the invitation of the government there to propose an internationally accepted framework for the return of refugees, and a Syrian peace effort at the request of the Arab League.

Kofi Annan, global statesman

The late UN Secretary-Geneeral Kofi Annan, along with his wife Nane meet South African freedom struggle leader Nelson Mandela in New Delhi in 2001. (Photo: UN/IANS)

He served as the chairman of the group of statespeople founded by South African leader Nelson Mandela, which was known as “The Elders”, and sought to play an international role in promoting peace and democracy through moral authority and persuasion.

Annan is the only one of the seven secretaries-general from Sub-Saharan Africa, a continent that has become central to the UN’s missions of peacekeeping and development.

He made two official visits to India in 2001 and 2005, when he met the spectrum of political leaders in the government and in opposition, as well as development experts.

New Delhi set up the a supercomputing and technology development faciity in Ghana in 2003 and named it in his honour as the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in Information Communications Technology. It was inaugurated by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Annan began his international civil servant career as a budget officer for the World Health Organisation in 1962. Along the way, he worked for the UN High Commission for Refugees and as a UN Assistant Secretary-General holding key portfolios of security and administration.

He rose to become the head of UN peacekeeping operations in 1993 and a under Secretary-General in 1994.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])

Continue Reading

Blog

Atal Bihari Vajpayee: The Gentle Colossus

Published

on

Atal Behari Vajpayee

In passing away of Atal Behari Vajpayee, India lost its one of the tallest leader and a statesman. He was a democrat and nationalist to the core apart from being an orator par excellence and a poet. Vajpayee was for BJP what Pandit Nehru was for the Indian National Congress. Vajpayee’s only sin was that he moulded the early BJP as a secular and a socialist legatee of the Janata party which came into existence in 1977 to oppose Mrs Indira Gandhi.

He had also opposed the Ram Mandir movement and it was Advani who was the RSS’s first choice for Prime Minister for the 1996 elections. But it was Advani who in November 1995 in Bombay announced Vajpayee as the prime ministerial candidate – to the astonishment of those present on the stage. It also took RSS by surprise but from then on, Vajpayee never turned back becoming Prime Minister in 1996, 1998, and in 1999 – while Advani withdrew to being his deputy.

The close friends and family members used to call him “Baap ji” and the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once addressed him as the “Bhishm Pitamah” of Indian politics. Vajpayee was a gentle colossus among the contemporary politicians and there were few among Indian leaders who attained the respect which he did. Journalists and newsmen all over the world do without salutations in addressing a politician but Vajpayee Ji was an exception and “Ji” became an integral part of his name.

“This young man would one day become the Prime Minister of India” said Pandit Nehru about Vajpayee. Nehru’s prophecy did come true decades later in 1996 when Vajpayee occupied the coveted post. Vajpayee was elected 11 times for Loksabha and twice for the Rajya Sabha and remained a Member of Parliament for 47 years.

In 1977, he became the External Affairs Minister under Morarji Desai and when he entered the office of Ministry of External Affairs in the South Block, he found the usual portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru missing from its spot in the ministerial chamber, removed in an excess of zeal by functionaries to please the new rulers. Though a lifelong critic of Congress, he wanted it back on its original spot. That was the persona of Vajpayee – a great heartedness as he embraced even those with whom he disagreed.

Image result for morarji desai atal bihari vajpayee

Pro-India; anti-Indira: (From left) Jagjivan Ram, Morarji Desai, Ashok Mehta, Chandrasekhar and Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Pramod Pushkarna. “

According to a popular legend, once Henry Kissinger asked Chou-en-Lai in 1972 what he thought of the impact of French Revolution on Western civilization. Apparently, Chou thought about it for a minute and then turned to Kissinger and said: “It is too soon to tell.” Something like that could well be said about the legacy of Vajpayee, India’s first BJP Prime Minister and also the first non Congress leader to complete a full tenure.

He had the distinction of being the first head of nation to address the United Nations in Hindi. He ran a coalition Govt of 24 parties in one of the most chaotic times in the country and provided not just stable but very efficient governance. His coalition partners in ideology were as diverse as chalk and cheese but it was to his credit that he kept his flock together despite extreme provocations.

When Jayalalitha pulled the carpet under his feet, he refused to opt for the customary horse trading and lost the confidence motion by just 1 vote. He took integrity and probity to a level which was unheard of in the Indian politics. He was also the best performing parliamentarian for over 5 decades and was a true Bharat Ratna on all counts.

His stewardship of economic reform and his skilled management of unruly coalition made his 6 year tenure as a Prime Minister a memorable one. But more than these accomplishments, Vajpayee should be remembered for the way in which he achieved them. Judged on most parameters, Vajpayee was a great Prime Minister.

He continued the policies of economic liberalisation initiated by Narsimha Rao and as a result economy flourished during his reign. He took the historic trip to Lahore by Bus to break the ice with Pakistan but unfortunately it was followed by their usual betrayal in the form of Kargil war. His summit with President Musharraf at Agra also ended in a fiasco but Vajpayee improved India’s relations with US, Russia, China and most of other important nations.

He was a great consensus-builder and worked closely with the opposition, avoided political invectives and endeavoured to bring all Indians and not just Hindus to bring them together in harmony. After the Pokhran-II nuclear test of May 1998 and the victory in Kargil, India began to be taken seriously as an emerging Asian power. It was under Prime Minister Vajpayee that the old hyphenation of India-Pakistan ended and a new one like India-China emerged on the global scene.

Vajpayee’s legacy remains in doubt as people forget that for all his charisma, he began his career as a hard-core Sanghi and made his reputation in the great Hindi debates of the Sixties, demanding that all of India should embrace Hindi, his mother tongue.

Vajpayee only began to mellow in the Seventies when experience convinced him that there is no place for divisive politics in India. From then on, he lost interest in the agitation for Hindi language and more significantly also moved away from the hardliner Hindus-first politics of Jan Sangh. By doing this, he alienated most of his old colleagues and earned the ire of the RSS.

After the BJP was almost wiped out during Congress landslide victory of 1984, the RSS looked around for alternatives and it found one in Vajpayee’s old lieutenant LK Advani, who abandoned the liberal approach that he too had once espoused, and pushed the concept of RSS. Advani undertook a Rath yatra through most of North India in an effort to whip up the communal tensions and weaponise Hinduism.

Vajpayee had no option but to distance himself altogether from his protege Advani’s movement. But when the BJP seemed like it had a chance of finally coming to power, the RSS also conceded that it was only Vajpayee who could attract the potential allies.

We think of Vajpayee as a strong Prime minister but that was only because he always remained calm and composed and seldom let the tensions show. RSS continued to push its own agenda and was not happy with Vajpayee’s politics and propped up Advani as a rival power centre. The allies in coalition Govt were difficult to handle but somehow, Vajpayee made it all seem easy.

From then on, the BJP should have continued as a centre-right party as even Advani suddenly turned into a liberal and visited Pakistan to sing paeans in support of MA Jinnah. But that was not to be and the BJP went back to her Hindu-centric ideology that Advani had once espoused much to the delight of RSS. Only, this time around, the shift to a muscular Hindutva was so extreme that even a hardliner like Advani began to seem like a lily-livered secularist in comparison.

Related image

Lal Krishan Advani lays a flower wreath at the mausoleum of Mohammed Ali Jinnah

From BJP’s point of view, Vajpayee’s greatest achievement was that he took a party that had once been a political pariah, brought it into the mainstream and acceptable to the electorates.

In many ways, it is as if the Vajpayee Prime minister ship with its consensus-building and taking everyone in confidence never happened. Sometimes it seems that the BJP moved directly from the destruction of the Babri Masjid to the dominance of the ideology that celebrated the demolition. So, it will be pertinent to say, Vajpayee was a great Prime Minister. But what will India remember as his legacy? As Chou-en-Lai might have said, “It’s too soon to tell”.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Most Popular