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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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After 1,460 days of Modi rule, ‘achhe din’ yet to come

I do not blame this government for not being able to deliver ‘achhe din’. Which government since Independence has?

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New Delhi: There’s only one year more to go for the BJP-led regime before another test at the hustings. But is the country any nearer to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promised ‘acche din‘ (good days)? Four years ago, the country had voted the present regime to power on hopes of better days in all socio-economic-political spheres. But despite some strong structural reforms like GST, and gut-wrenching changes like demonetisation, the jury may still be out on how good it has been, according to economists and others experts.

Despite India’s GDP growth of 7.2 per cent in the third quarter (October-December) of 2017-18, some economists feel that the demonetisation drive, avowedly taken to “cleanse the system” of black money, had ended up damaging the country’s economy instead.

“Demonetisation was a terrible mistake by the government, for which the common people paid the price. It has reduced people’s trust in the banking system, as they were denied their own money during the period of cash crunch. It takes so much time and work to build institutions and policies — it is so much easier and faster to break things,” Jayati Ghosh, Economics Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), told IANS.

The government decided to ban 1,000 rupee and 500-rupee notes on November 8, 2016, taking away 86 per cent of the total currency in circulation. “May be this move had served the government’s purpose politically, but economically it was a bad one,” Ghosh added.

Echoing similar views, Arun Kumar, former professor of economics at the JNU, told IANS that when the NDA government came in, the Indian economy was already on an upward trajectory. The quarter, in which the government took over, the growth climbed to eight per cent. In October 2016, India was the fastest growing economy in the world when China slowed down a bit.

“But then the government administered a shock to the system with demonetisation. It had a negative impact on the unorganised sector that comprise 45 per cent of production and 93 per cent of employment in the country. According to some estimation, 50-80 per cent of that got damaged,” he said.

Kumar, who is now Chair-Professor with the Institute of Social Sciences, added: “Government did no survey at that time and hence no data is available. Even data from International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which rely on government data, do not show any estimates (on impact).”

After demonetisation, credit off-take in the country declined sharply. “Between November-December 2016, it was at historic low of 60 years. Investment into the country also took a big hit,” he said. However, Ranen Banerjee, Partner & Leader, Public Finance and Economics, at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has a different take on some of the benefits flowing from the action.

“Demonetisation had positive impact as far as digital payments were concerned. It shot up sharply during that period but came down subsequently. The level is still higher earlier. But demonetisation as a measure did not deliver all the results that it was supposed to deliver,” Banerjee said.

The government’s other major thrust, though, on Goods and Services Tax (GST) — rolled out on July 1 last year, got better billing. Economists are hopeful that it will bring in beneficial changes once the hiccups are over. Banerjee says GST would change the entire landscape of tax compliance in the country by creating a multiplier effect. “GST was a bold move which is showing positive results,” he added.

Ghosh, though, thinks GST goes against the grain of federalism. “A unified system is not so necessary in a federal structure — for example, the US does not have it and still has a very modern economy. In a federal structure you have to allow states to have some money raising power. Further, GST implementation has been really bad.”

Kumar said: “Introduction of GST has hit the unorganised sector badly. Even in Malaysia where GST was introduced in 2015-16 at 26 per cent, government decided to scrap it. The organised sector is rising at the expense of unorganised sector. Disparity is rising.”

Industry chambers have by and large welcomed government initiatives, especially the decision on GST. “The overall economy is strong with GST having settled down and reforms firmly on the right path,” Chandrajit Banerjee, Director-General of Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), told IANS.

Over the last four years, according to him, the government had systematically addressed major “pain points” for the economy such as ease of doing business, non-performing assets of banks, foreign direct investment rules, infrastructure construction and exit of failing enterprises.

“The government’s mission-mode development campaigns have delivered notable results, adding to overall growth multipliers. The firm level and sectoral level numbers look promising for the next year in terms of orders booked and capacity utilisation,” said CII’s Banerjee.

Former economics professor at Indian Statistical Institute, Dipankar Dasgupta, who holds that the economy was yet to recover from the hit it took because of demonetisation, says that on GST he was hopeful that with time it will stabilise. “In the other countries where it was introduced there were teething problems too,” he said.

The government also took up the job to cleanse bad loans of banks. It is pumping in Rs 2.11 lakh crore as capitalisation, spread over two years. But a number of banking scandals and rising non-performing assets (NPA) may have reduced the faith of people in the bank system, after the shock of demonetisation. “We have declining deposits in the banking system due to people’s rising mistrust,” says Ghosh. Dasgupta says recapitalisation should be followed with caution so that it does not widen the fiscal deficit.

The government, though, has got support in its effort to tackle the issue of NPAs. The bankruptcy law has put everyone on notice. “People are taking the issue of NPAs seriously trying to resolve it. Companies are opting for out of court settlement. Propensity to comply has increased as borrowers know that there will be consequences on not servicing a loan,” Banerjee of PriceWaterhouseCoopers said.

Yet, overall the promise of the golden pot at the end of the five-year rainbow, as promised by Modi in his of speeches — where he had painted the BJP rule in attractive hues — has not materialised in four years. BJP’s best salesman may have oversold the hope. “I do not blame this government for not being able to deliver ‘achhe din’. Which government since Independence has?” asks Dasgupta rhetorically.

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Modi’s informal summits with Jinping, Putin : A big failure

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his tenure by pledging to take India to new heights by declaring it a power of South Asia but has ended into becoming subservient to China with a weak economy.

The informal summits undertaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Wuhan with Chinese president Xi Jinping and at Sochi with Russian President Vladimir Putin has been necessitated due to the rapidly changing global equations involving Korean Peninsula,China’s rise, China’s militarisation of the South China Sea, US-China economic estrangement and US withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Modi’s decision of making India a defence and logistically of United States has not brought any dividends rather President Donald Trump has reiterated its intention to undo the existing policy enabling spouses of H-1B workers to get work permits. Trump’s announcement of US unilaterally quitting the Iran deal also presented tough walk ahead for India.

Modi has realized how he has wasted his four years traveling across the world with inconsistent and random foreign policy initiatives as Americans have always kept their economic, strategic and military interests paramount even during their bilateral relations.

In his “America First” national security strategy, President Trump has explicitly named China and Russia as “competition” that seek to “challenge American power, influence, and interests” and attempt “to erode American security and prosperity”.

Last year, US President Donald Trump had signed a law, ‘The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’, CAATSA, imposing sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea. China has invested heavily in the economies of Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to the tune of more than $150 billion thus encircling India and it has huge trade

volumes with US and exports rebounded more strongly in April and outperformed other Asian trade-reliant economies amid a heated trade dispute with the United States. But Modi is again misguiding people of India as no country in South Asia is interested to build close ties with New Delhi.

The divergence in policy and ideas can be seen on the statements issued by India and China. There was no convergence between the two sides on terrorism as China made a mention of the word ‘terrorism’ only once and that too in a generalised form while India elaborately describes terrorism in Pakistan.

After displaying muscle power at Doklam, India sought mutual trust and ‘predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs but China justifies its actions by terming that it will never compromise on defending its sovereignty. Indian statement stressed that the trade should be balanced, sustainable and that we should take advantage of the complementaries between the two economies to enhance the trade and investment.

The word ‘balance’ was conspicuously absent in Chinese document .”India’s trade deficit with China increased more than two-fold (219 percent) from $16 billion in 2007-08 to $51 billion in 2016-17, according to the Commerce Ministry data.

China has begun large-scale mining operation in Lhunze county under its control adjacent to Arunachal Pradesh where a huge trove of gold, silver and other precious minerals has been found. Beijing has defended mining operations, saying that the area belongs to it India’s weak economy due to faulty decisions of Modi government has emboldened China who are constructing “permanent hangers” in upgraded airfields that include Hotan, Hoping and Lhasa -in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) that face India. China has 14 airbases in the Lanzhou and Chengdu regions, opposite to Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.

It is right to mention that it’s the economy stupid that proclaim a country superpower and China has penetrated the global market with Xi Jinping’s OBOR initiative and has huge investments in different sectors like in digital, telecom, power, engineering in Indian economy as well. Modi has realised that time has slipped away and he cannot build strong economy through his personalised approach in the present scenario where only economic ties with rivals and other competitors can flourish Indian economy.

As India knitted close ties with the United States under Modi, Russia has stepped up its strategic ties with India’s arch-rival Pakistan. Russia in December 2017 also signed the joint declaration of the six-nation conference asking for resolution of Kashmir issue under the UNSC resolution. Modi’s informal talks with Putin focussed on defence ties including  the S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft missile systems which are required by India to counter the emerging air threats. AS major defence purchases from Russia would attract sanctions from US while delivery of the systems is to begin within 54 months from the date of signing.

Modi is in search of good slogans for 2019 Lok Saha elections, in these 4 years, Modi has described his critics as doomsayers, blamed the previous Congress government for India’s economic ills, painted himself as an outsider. He gets nervous about being criticised and showcases himself as a victim.

By Arti Bali,
arti

(Senior Journalist)

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What a governor must do

Supreme Court must now address itself to protecting the institution from political machinations.

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Had the governor played by the rules, the nation would have been saved an unsavoury spectacle. There was no doubt that the post-poll Congress-JD(S) alliance had the numbers. The BJP, with only 104, could not have manufactured a majority except through dubious means. In such situations, it is important for constitutional authorities to act in accordance with their oath of office and preserve and protect the Constitution rather than act in a blatantly partisan manner.

Let us examine the fall-out of the decision of the governor transgressing constitutional norms. First, governors are consistently being seen as the long arm of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah axis, whether in Goa, Manipur or Meghalaya and earlier in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Governors are playing to the tune of the Pied Piper in New Delhi. The institution of governor has become suspect. Second and perhaps more serious is the impact of such existential playouts on the common man. People understand the nature of electoral politics. But when they see institutions being consistently devalued, they start losing faith not only in the institutions and those who occupy them, but also in democracy. That is truly worrisome.

The third element of concern is the manner in which the governor decided to administer the oath of office on May 17 to B S Yeddyurappa and to later prove his majority on the floor of the Assembly. That decision was taken late on Wednesday evening. The governor knew that the Congress-JD(S) alliance was likely to challenge the order and that by fixing the swearing-in at 9 am the next morning, it was highly unlikely for the court to give a hearing in the intervening period. Luckily, the Chief Justice of India was gracious enough to grant a hearing. That window of opportunity gave the Congress-JD(S) alliance some hope that the battle could still be won.

The court was confronted with the decision of the governor to swear in Yeddyurappa the next morning and ask him to prove his majority on the floor of the Assembly within 15 days. This was an invitation to the BJP to carry out political poaching. The court was aware that the Congress-JD(S) alliance, pursuant to the notifications issued by the Election Commission of India, had within its fold 116 MLAs with the support of an independent, taking the tally to 117.

The decision of the governor, therefore, to swear in Yeddyurappa could not have been based on numbers. The court should then have considered as to why Yeddyurappa was favoured in preference to an alliance which clearly had majority support in the Assembly. The letter to the governor by Yeddyurappa on May 15 was not before the court. It was clear that there was nothing on record to show that Yeddyurappa could claim support of any of the MLAs belonging to the Congress-JD(S) alliance. In these circumstances, it is settled law that the governor should not have invited Yeddyurappa and instead invited H D Kumaraswamy, leader of the JD(S), to form the government since the Congress had on May 15 written to the governor extending support to the JD(S).

On the 15th evening, a communication had been sent by the JD(S) as well as the Congress party to the governor along with signatures of all the MLAs, barring two, extending their support to the leadership of Kumaraswamy. These communications were on record. Despite these facts, the court declined to stay the order of the governor on the basis that he was not represented and that no such order could be passed in his absence. Whether such an order could have been passed or not is now history.

But the consequences of not granting stay of the order of the governor inviting Yeddyurappa were somewhat serious. The order of the governor in the light of the statement of the prime minister — “Sarkar toh hamaari hi banegi (It is only our government which will be formed)” — was a clear indication that the governor was on his side and was doing his bidding and that by all means, fair or foul, the BJP will install its government in Karnataka. This only meant that the message from the party leadership, with Amit Shah waxing eloquent in Karnataka, the Bellary brothers at work, allegedly keeping a couple of MLAs of the Congress-JD(S) alliance in captivity, was that all means would be adopted to manufacture a majority.

Had the BJP got a majority, what would have happened? The court would have been presented with a fait accompli of a government firmly in the saddle: A government born with taint but clothed with legality. It would have been impossible to render a judicial verdict holding such a formation to be unconstitutional. Corruption, illegality and impropriety, all put together, would have triumphed and the court would not have been able to dislodge the government. Not granting a stay gave an impetus to use illegal means to manufacture a majority. It goes to the credit of the Congress and the JD(S) that they were able to keep their flock together. The two who were allegedly captive came back home.

Perhaps the watchful eye of the Supreme Court made all the difference along with its sagacious decision to order a floor test on May 19 almost eliminating the scope of political poaching. Public view of the assembly proceedings made the taking of the trust vote transparent.

There are two lessons to be learnt. First, that the institution of the governor must be protected from the machinations of political parties. Two, that the Supreme Court must, once and for all, give a clear verdict on the role of the governors in such situations. When next the curtain rises after another assembly election, the country should not be witness again to the destruction of constitutional values, the protection of which alone is of seminal importance. In an era of declining political morality, constitutional values are under siege. As in this case, the courts must be ever vigilant.

The writer, a former Union minister, is a senior Congress leader

Courtesy: This article is published in Indianexpress on 22 May 2018

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