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

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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.

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Super Destinations to bring in 2018!

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7 LUXURY TRAVEL TRENDS FOR 2017
New Year’s Eve is right around the corner, and this is the time of the year when all we care about is bidding farewell to the year with a bang. Well then, why not opt for some amazingly beautiful, yet largely undiscovered, locations that are just a short travel from Mumbai!
Starting off with a charming hill station, Kanatal, situated in the picturesque Garhwal Himalayas, is the perfect place to spend a couple of days in unimaginable peace and solitude. Surrounded by lush forests and beautiful views of mist-shrouded mountains and steeped in warmth, this is your one chance of experiencing true Pahadi hospitality.
While in Kanatal, you can choose to explore the tiny hamlet, set off on a hike, trek or nature walk across any of the surrounding hills and valleys, set up camp in any one of the numerous camping locations or add some thrill to your vacation by going rappelling or rock climbing. Amongst the sights that this charming hill station has to offer, some of the more unique ones are the Surkhanda Devi Temple, with Kanatal’s own little legend and Tehri Dam, the highest dam in the country.
But ifa simple, peaceful vacation doesn’t seem like the best way of bringing in 2018, then Manali is great for some exciting adventure activities and peaceful exploration at the same time. Set on the Beas River, you can spend your time skiing across the Solang Valley or trekking up to the famed Tibetan monasteries. You can also opt for paragliding, rafting and mountaineering in the Pir Panjal Mountains. Once you’ve had your fill of adventures, you can relax those tired muscles in the famous hot-water springs of Vashist village, and then start exploring the villages nearby, including Manikaran, Kasol and Kothi. While this destination is perfect around the year, it’s especially popular in the winter months, making it a perfect place to bring in the New Year.
If hill stations aren’t your cup of tea though, then Jaisalmer should be the ideal destination for you. Also known as the ‘Golden City’, Jaisalmer promises an extremely unique experience, with the massive Fort, rising up from the unending desert sands, the magnificent havelis, colourful bazaars and deep-rooted cultural history.
In Jaisalmer, you can choose to explore the city’s historical heritage, starting with havelis like Patwon-Ki-Haveli, Nathmal-Ki-Haveli or Salim Singh Ki Haveli, each with its own unique story and regal architecture, and going on to explore the thrilling Kuldhara Ghost Town, the Vyas Chhatri, dedicated to Ved Vyasa, and the Thar Heritage Museum. After the dose of history, you can stop by the stunning Bada Bagh or the breathtaking Gadisar Lake and roam the deserts with a camel safari.
“All these destinations are absolutely perfect for this time of the year”, says Viren Batra, co-founder of Nirvana Travel. “Some of the most popularvacation places; they are all unique in terms of what they have to offer, making it easy for travelers to choose the perfect place to bring in the New Year!”
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Gujarat assembly elections:Modi showcases seaplane as development, Rahul expects ‘zabardast’ results

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Rahul Gandhi

Hectic campaigning in Gujarat assembly elections has witnessed a direct  fight between PM Modi and Congress President elect Rahul Gandhi.This is the first time when top leaders of both the parties have addressed maximum number of rallies in the assembly  elections. During the entire campaigning, Modi have been constantly shifting the narratives from Vikas (development) to Pakistan to Congress and them to himself but Congress has been raising the issue of 22 years of misrule by BJP where farmers,Patidars, Dalits have been marginalized and have taken to streets for fulfillment of their demands.

Congress claimed that only 10 industrialists have benefitted from Modi’s policies and 90% of colleges have been privatised burdening the middle class people with costly education and health care.

Gujarat assembly elections have become a referendum for Rahul Gandhi emerging as a challenger to Modi where as for PM it has become a prestige battle on his home turf.

 

The manner in which Rahul Gandhi gave  a detailed briefing to media on the last day of campian trial,he has registered himself  as a prime ministerial material as he said his priorities as Congress president would be “to strengthen the Congress  party as an Organisation and move forward to change the political discourse that has become ugly and nasty.”

 

 

While PM Modi always projected himself as the sole leader relegating his party to backseat.

On the last day of campaigning ,Modi showcased development of Gujarat by taking a ride  on the

seaplane from the Sabarmati River to Dharoi Dam in Mehsana district and then travelled by road to Banaskantha district to offer prayers at the famous Ambaji Temple .But, would Modi explain how a seaplane  can become a testimony for development of the state.

BJP has been saying that  their core agenda is development but building roads, flyovers and dams are part of infrastructure  while development implies providing more jobs, introduce innovative ideas for new generation to compete in the world.Rahul Gandhi questioned the BJP’s Gujarat Model saying there is one sided development in Gujarat and asserted that his party will seize the state from the BJP  which has been in power for the last 22 years.

Gandhi reiterated that the lopsided development has not touched lives of common people in the State.

 

Gandhi said, “There is a massive undercurrent against the BJP in the state and  the Gujarat verdict will be zabardast (stunning).”

Gandhi claimed “The Congress wants to take along all sections of Gujarat together as against the BJP which has worked for 10 to 15 industrialists.

He attacked Modi questioning Modi and  BJP to come clean on the Rafael deal, Jay Shah case and debt waiver of top corporates.

 

 During his campaigning, the Congress’ president-elect posed 14 questions to the BJP and Prime Minister Modi on Twitter with the tag line “22 saalon ka hisaab, Gujarat maange Jawaab (Gujarat demands answers and account of [BJP’s] 22-year-rule in the state.”

Rahul had asked PM Modi: “First question for PM Modi on the situation of Gujarat: It was promised in 2012 that 50 lakh new houses will be made. In five years, only 4.72 lakh have been built. PM must answer whether it will take 45 years to complete this promise?”

 Question 2: In 1995(before BJP came to power) the debt on Gujarat was Rs 9,183 crore. In 2017, the debt on Gujarat is Rs 2,41,000 crore.

“The third question to the PM: Between 2002-16, Why was electricity worth Rs 62,549 crore bought to fill the pockets of four private companies? The production capacity of government’s power-production plants was reduced by 62 per cent but why was electricity of Rs 3 per unit bought at Rs 24 per unit from private firms? Why was public money wasted?” Rahul questioned.

. Why is Gujarat ranked 26th in terms of government’s expenditure on education? What is the fault of the youth?”

No security, no education, no nourishment, the only thing women got was exploitation. Worers of Anganwadi of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist), all got disappointment. Only promises were made to Gujarat’s women, but there was no intention to complete them.”

BJP’s double assault; on one hand the youth is unemployed and on the other lakhs of contractual and fixed-wage workers left unsatisfied. When the 7th central pay commission fixed a monthly pay of 18,000, why do fixed wagers get only Rs 5,500 and contractual workers only Rs 10,000? Rahul asked PM Modi in his sixth question.

 In his next attack, Rahul then asked the prime minister “whether the BJP is only a party for the rich?”

 “39 per cent children are suffering from malnourishment. The neonatal mortality rate in 33 out of every 1,000 newborns. The cost of medical care is increasing and there is a dearth of doctors. In Bhuj, a ‘friend’ was given government hospital for 99 years. Is this your medical arrangement,” Rahul asked.

 “Neither the loans were waived off, nor the right price paid for crops; the crop insurance sum was also not paid. Tubewells for irrigation were also not set up. Gabbar Singh’s assault on farming, land taken away, farmer left without work. Answer prime minister, why this behaviour with the farmer?”

In his 10th question, Rahul asked the PM: “The land of the tribals was snatched away from them, they were not even given any rights on the forests, Lakhs of land agreements are stuck, neither did the schools work, nor were hospitals provided. The homeless was not provided a house and no work for the unemployed. The tribals have been broken. Where is the Rs 55,000 crore from the vanbandhu yojana?”

 “80 per cent engineers are sitting jobless. Tata Nana was just talk, the car didn’t work. Those who ask for jobs are shot, you have gambled with the future of the youth. Education sold, examinations sold, schools and colleges made shops; Modiji why was the honour of education centres sold?

 “Small-mid sized merchants are stricken, big industrialists are revelling. Dual assault of GST and note ban; Whether it be Surat, Rajkot, Alang or Anjar, Gujarat’s trade was destroyed. Will your government take accountability?”

 “You said the government will be accountable, answer why was Lokpal bypassed? GSPC (Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation), electricity-metro scams, silence on Shah-Jada (jibe at Amit Shah) every time, desperate for fill the pockets of friends. The list in long. And the question is to the ‘silent sir’, for whose ‘achhe din’ (good days) was this government made?” he asked.

Rahul asked the PM: “No land, no employment, no health, no education, all that the dalits of Gujarat got was insecurity. Modiji is silent on the tragic incident of Una; then who will take accountability for the incident? There were many laws made in the name of dalits. But who will execute them properly?”

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By: Arti Bali

Senior Journalist

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India has survived as a single political entity because of democracy

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Why, despite the differences and the almost continuous trouble in one or other part of India, has the country (India) survived as a single political entity?

The answer in one word is democracy. India’s experiment with democracy has been unique, not only due to the size of the electorate and the number of political parties, but because it has tamed and ‘Indianised’ it. The Westminster model of parliamentary democracy has been transformed into the Raisina model. Reforms to achieve social equality have taken place through the election process-vote banks rather than direct, unilateral executive action which has historically been more common-as for example when Kemal Atatürk reformed Turkey during his tenure as the President.

There is no evidence that democracy existed in ancient India. There were republics in parts of what are now Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These were territories which had no kings but the rulers were an oligarchy. But these rulers were not elected by all the people. Indeed the idea of equal rights to elect rulers would be strange to a hierarchical social order.

These were oligarchies rather than monarchies, republics rather than democracies. Even in panchayats, whether for a caste or a village, it was very much the older, more powerful men (and exclusively men) who were the panch. We see that today in khap panchayats. Khap panchayats are committees of elders of a jati which lay down the conventions of good behaviour for members of that jati. Democracy is quite different from republicanism. Great Britain has been a democracy without being a republic.

The most radical act of the members of the Constituent Assembly was the decision to grant universal adult franchise. They themselves had been elected by an electorate which was highly restricted. There were several arguments which could have been advanced against universal adult franchise. Illiteracy, for example. Only 12 percent of Indians were literate at the time of Independence. (Now the rate is 75 per cent.) Moreover, across the world, few countries had given women the vote by 1947. The UK achieved full female suffrage only in 1928 and France in 1946. India granted women the vote immediately, without any previous experience of women voting. High or low caste, savarna and Dalits, tribals and mainlanders-all got to vote as long as they were adults. The orthodox theory of Ram Rajya would never have sanctioned such equality. It was a profound, egalitarian move.

The choice of democracy with full adult franchise was not an accident. In the official reforms, franchise had been kept restricted. But the Indian National Congress was converted from an elite gathering into a mass party by Gandhi once he became its leader in 1921. With him at the helm, the Congress gave every ordinary member a right to vote at the local level to elect their representatives in higher Congress bodies. Congress practised universal adult franchise for all its paid-up (4 annas/25 paise) members and then naturally extended it to all when it came to power.

There was also another factor which has been downplayed in the history of the independence movement. This was the experience political leaders acquired by participating in the official legislatures. They included leaders such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Sir Srinivas Shastri, Chittaranjan Das, Motilal Nehru, Tej Bahadur Sapru and Vithalbhai Patel, all of whom were seasoned parliamentarians. The electorates were small, the elected Indians had little power, the agenda was controlled by the executive (this still remains the case in independent India’s Parliament). But the participants learnt about procedure on how to frame and pass legislation, debate budgets and so on. The short-term split in the independence movement between the constitutional and the agitational sides took place in 1921, when Gandhi issued the call for non-cooperation, and ended in 1937, when Congress took part in the legislatures.

During that period, the Swaraj Party started by Congress leaders such as C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru participated in the elections. By the time of Independence, in fact, there were many leaders who had become seasoned parliamentarians. Some like Har Bilas Sarda achieved their goal of reforming society by having an Act passed. The Sarda Bill was introduced in 1927 in the Central Legislative Assembly and passed as the Sarda Act in 1929, prohibiting child marriage. India was ready for a parliamentary democracy, British style.

(Noted public intellectual, professor of Economics and an active member of the British Labour Party since 1971, Meghnad Desais latest book “The Raisina Model” (Penguin/Rs 499/208 pages) offers a critical and frequently uncomfortable mediation on Indias contemporary political culture. Presented here is an exclusive extract from the book:)

By : Meghnad Desai

(Extracted from “The Raisina Model” by Meghnad Desai, with permission from Penguin Random House India)

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