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Rise of regional leaders in Congress

In contrast, Siddaramaiah has kept pace with Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s electioneering with both public appearances and a regular recourse to tweets which are characterised by humour as well as biting sarcasm.

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Siddaramaiah Rahul

Irrespective of the outcome of the Karnataka elections and notwithstanding Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s desire to retire after the polls, a feature of the contest in the southern state is his emergence as a major state-level leader.

As a result, the battle is being perceived as being mainly between Siddaramaiah and Narendra Modi if only because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief ministerial candidate, B.S. Yeddyurappa, has been almost completely overshadowed by the Prime Minister’s intensive campaign since May 1.

In contrast, Siddaramaiah has kept pace with Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s electioneering with both public appearances and a regular recourse to tweets which are characterised by humour as well as biting sarcasm.

For the Congress, this rise of a regional leader marks a return to the immediate post-1947 period when the party had a number of top-ranking local leaders despite the presence of towering personalities at the Centre like Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and others.

The co-existence of influential leaders at both the Centre and in the states gave way in Indira Gandhi’s time to a concentration of power in Delhi with the regional leaders reduced to being mere supplicants rather than representing considerable authority as, for instance, B.C. Roy once did in West Bengal or Pratap Singh Kairon in Punjab or Govind Ballabh Pant in Uttar Pradesh or Morarji Desai in Bombay.

The reason for the marginalisation of the regional leaders was largely ascribed to Indira Gandhi’s disinclination to allow any charismatic local Congressman to acquire a sizable base in his home province and become a rival centre of power.

The diminution of the stature of local leaders was accompanied by the increasing dominance of the party’s first family, which reached its highest point during the Emergency when Indira was deemed synonymous with India by the Congress president, D.K. Barooah.

Arguably, this pattern of politics with only one focal point has begun to change in the Congress. The first sign of this transformation was in Punjab last year where Amrinder Singh emerged as the No.1 figure both before and after the party’s electoral success. That he did so despite having once made disparaging remarks about Rahul Gandhi showed how the “high command” had matured since Indira Gandhi’s time or had come to terms with its own diminishing status.

Now, the battle in Karnataka has given an opportunity to Siddaramaiah to acquire a stature similar to Amrinder Singh’s. Moreover, there is no tension this time between Delhi and Bengaluru as in Punjab earlier when there was even speculation about Amrinder Singh leaving the Congress.

It will be futile to deny that the increasing visibility of the state-level leaders is related to the dimming of the dynasty’s aura. At the same time, the BJP’s ascendency has apparently made the Congress realise that the earlier style of politics with a concentration of power at the Centre will not work.

Just as the Congress is trying to change the perception of being a “Muslim party”, to use Sonia Gandhi’s words, it is also becoming accustomed to the idea of giving a free hand to the local satraps. The leeway given to Amrinder Singh was the first step and now it is Siddaramaiah’s turn to operate as he pleases.

It goes without saying that this new approach will do a world of good to the party. Fortunately, it has in Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia young, personable and energetic leaders in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh who are capable of delivering the goods in the assembly elections later this year.

It is the Congress’s misfortune that several prominent state leaders like Y.S. Rajshekara Reddy, Madhavrao Scindia and Rajesh Pilot died early. Otherwise, the process of a more even distribution of power between the Centre and the states might have begun earlier.

At the moment, the party is trying to evolve a balance between the younger generation and the elderly leaders if only to make the handing over of the baton a smooth affair. Nowhere is this effort more evident than in Madhya Pradesh where the party has always had more than a normal share of heavyweights.

Thus, the 71-year-old Kamal Nath, who was once close to Sanjay Gandhi, has been nominated as the party’s chief in the state while 47-year-old Scindia has become the head of the campaign committee. What this balancing act means is that the question of who will become the Chief Minister in case the Congress wins has been left open.

It is the same in Rajasthan since the former Chief Minister, 68-year-old Ashok Gehlot, has been elevated to the position of a General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in charge of the organisation and the training of cadres while the 51-year-old Sachin Pilot remains the chief of the party’s state unit.

There is little doubt, however, that the generational shift evident in Rahul Gandhi’s ascent to the Congress president’s post is paving the way for the younger leaders to gain more prominence. But it remains to be seen whether their rise will put an end to the unequal relations as in Indira Gandhi’s time between the high command and the state units.

By : Amulya Ganguli

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

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AAP irrelevant, we want to win all 7 Lok Sabha seats in Delhi: Sheila Dikshit

I will mobilise all workers and leaders for the party’s victory

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sheila dikshit arvind kejriwal

New Delhi, Jan 16 : Inducted as Delhi Congress President ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha elections, Sheila Dikshit says her target is to win all the seven Lok Sabha seats in the national capital.

The 80-year-old leader, who assumed office as the Delhi Congress chief on Wednesday, said she will mobilise all workers and leaders for the party’s victory.

She said her target is “to get Congress active and get all Congressmen together.”

Asked about her target for the Lok Sabha elections, she said: “I hope to win all the seven. We will target all the seven and then see”.

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Veteran Congress leader Sheila Dikshit with Former Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken during a programme where she took charge as the party’s Delhi unit chief in New Delhi, on Jan 16, 2019. (Photo: IANS)

Asked when the party will declare its candidates as the AAP has sounded its potential candidates and the BJP already has sitting MPs in all the seven seats, she hoped that the candidates will be decided soon. “Let’s see when the high command announces.”

Dikshit said she is not in favour of an alliance with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the capital and prefers that the party go it alone.

However, at the same time she also does not rule out a tie up with the AAP.

“No, I am not in favour of it (alliance with AAP),” she told IANS.

“The Aam Aadmi Party is not a very polished party. For instance why did they do all that …Rajiv Gandhi having got the award (Bharat Ratna). What have they got to do with it. They never gave the award 22 years ago. Why did they pick it up? They just pick up things. I don’t think they think before what they are doing,” the three-time chief minister of Delhi said when she was asked about the reasons for not going for an alliance with the AAP.

“Anyway, for me, I mean they are the ruling party of Delhi so that relevance is there but otherwise they are an irrelevant party.”

Asked if the AAP was in touch with the party’s central leadership, she said: “No, not with us in anyway. I don’t think so.”

Pressed further on the issue, Dikshit said she had no idea. “Nobody has spoken about it.”

Asked if she had conveyed her viewpoint to the central leadership, Dikshit said she had given her views in the media.

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Veteran Congress leader Sheila Dikshit with party leaders Ajay Maken, Meira Kumar and Harun Yusuf during a programme where she took charge as the party’s Delhi unit chief in New Delhi, on Jan 16, 2019. Also seen . (Photo: IANS)

“I have conveyed to all of you so everybody knows my viewpoint. It has been there for a long time.”

Asked if she was ruling out an alliance with the AAP, she said: At the moment there is no alliance with AAP, and let’s see what happens in future.”

To a follow up question on when the uncertainty will end, she smiled and refused to comment.

She rejected apprehensions that the Congress and the AAP fighting separately will give an advantage to the BJP in Delhi.

“Why, why, why…No. We are strong enough ourselves, please remember. We are older than the BJP and much older than the AAP. No thank you…No, there is no need (to align).”

To a query whether she had given her feedback to the party, Dikshit said, “Not yet,” and added that she will be doing so as soon as she was asked by the leadership.

Asked if potential candidates have been sounded out, she said “everybody is working, everybody has got their mind on it and we have to meet and bring (it) to each other’s attention.”

Asked about her being made PCC chief only three months before the polls and if it should have been done earlier, Dikshit said: “What has happened has happened. You make the best of what has happened.”

She said the party not having declared its candidates so far does not matter. “The God made the whole world in seven days and surely we can do this (declare candidates).”

However, she refused to spell out her party’s strategy. “I won’t tell you just now. I will bring the strategy which is implementable. So let me just study it.”

She said the workers were motivated and the ground work was visible for the last-three four days.

Asked who was the main challenger between the AAP and the BJP in Delhi, she said they both were a challenge.

“I think at the national level, if you are looking at their presence, then the BJP is.”

Asked if Rahul Gandhi was relying on the old guard having appointed Kamal Nath chief minister in Madhya Pradesh, Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan and Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh, Dikshit did not give a direct answer.

“I wouldn’t say. This is a question you need to ask Rahulji. I don’t make assessments on appointments, they have been made, they have been made.”

Dikshit admitted that there was some factionalism in the Delhi unit and said it will be addressed.

“There is… wherever there are 20…there are hundreds of people in the Congress, there is bound to be a faction. It is not something that cannot be overcome for a particular cause,” she said.

“The challenge is to face the forthcoming elections to the Lok Sabha and the challenge that is consistent with that is to keep the party together. All of us not to show our differences of opinion if we have any. Carry on what the leaders (say) so that we are seen as a joint organisation working for the good of the Congress,” she said.

Dikshit said she will campaign for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh if asked to, “but I will focus more on Delhi as there is a lot of work here.”

Asked about the dim possibility of a grand alliance shaping up in Delhi, she said: “You all bring a time limit saying do it now or tomorrow. In politics there is no time limit. It depends on the opportunities and atmosphere that is there and then we take decisions.”

She said that both national and local issues will be highlighted in Delhi during the campaign.

Dikshit said the party will highlight the development work done during her 15 years as chief minister. “Obviously, those works were done by Congress and we will surely highlight those works.”

On the recurrent confrontation between the AAP government in Delhi with the BJP-led central government, Dikshit said she had worked smoothly as Chief Minister with the Vajpayee government.

“It is for them to understand whether confrontation brings out work,” she said.

(Anand Singh can be contacted at [email protected] and Prashant Sood at [email protected])

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Modi-Yogi bonhomie on full display in politically-charged Kumbh Mela

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Prayagraj, Kumbh 2019
Prayagraj, Kumbh 2019

Hundreds of hoardings carrying the images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath dotted the streets of the holy town as millions from across India and abroad have descended here for the religious, spiritual and cultural congregation taking place barely three months ahead of the 2019 general elections.

The Kumbh Mela, which opened formally in the early hours of Tuesday with the first of the six ‘shahi Snan’ (royal bath), and is expected to draw over 15 crore pilgrims this year, is a sea of saffron and slogans such as “Modi tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hain” (Modi you lead the fight, we are with you) and “Mandir wahin banayenge” (temple will be built at the disputed site in Ayodhya) rent the air at the site.

Notably, both Modi and Yogi have waxed eloquent on the preparations for the holy dip, which according to legend, opens the doors to heaven. The Kumbh Mela administration officials told IANS that Yogi has resolved to provide an unforgettable pilgrimage experience to crores of devotees visiting Kumbh.

They say that Yogi has laid special emphasis on “blending the grand traditions of Kumbh with the deployment of modern techniques and solutions” so that the kalpavasis, spiritual gurus, dignitaries, foreign visitors and the pilgrims have a “life emancipating experience” during their visit to Prayagraj.

At a press conference on Monday, Prayagraj Commissioner Ashish Kumar Goyal told reporters that the state government is fully dedicated to providing a unique and fulfilling experience to visitors, highlighting that “there is no shortage of budget, we have sufficient funds”.

He maintained that the Chief Minister is personally monitoring the Kumbh Mela, and has advised officials to do everything that is needed.

The Kumbh is also the world’s largest religious congregation of its kind, making it a potential political playfield for the BJP that has a strong voter-base among the Hindus.

The 2019 Kumbh Mela is organised on a much wider scale than its previous editions and multiple tent cities, along with lakhs of new toilets have cropped up along the banks of the holy river Ganga. The historic city was also recently renamed from Allahabad by the BJP government.

Displayed here are multiple life-size hoardings welcoming pilgrims to Kumbh and they carry images of Modi and Yogi on either side with their messages.

Such hoardings and posters are among the first sights that visitors arriving in the city encounter, and on the way leading up to the Sangam — the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna rivers and the mystical Saraswati — visitors are introduced to the various programmes and campaigns introduced and promoted by the BJP government.

One example of this is a massive yellow-coloured hoarding that appears near the Parade Ground on Kali Road, about 3 kms before the Sangam, that sings praises of the bonhomie between the Yogi-led Up government and the Modi-led NDA government at the centre. It states that in keeping with the piousness of the Ganga, the state of Uttar Pradesh is marching forward.

The hoarding, whose similar variations also appear in other parts of the city, states that Modi has allotted Rs 146.87 crores and Rs 52.76 crores towards Prayagraj District Sewerage Project and Prayagraj District Sewerage Network Project, respectively. The hoarding carries smiling pictures of Modi and Yogi on either sides, with the achievements of the BJP government inscribed at the bottom.

Another similar hoarding reads: “Ek dubki aastha ki, ek bhaav sadbhav ka” and displays a saint offering water to the Sun god. The smiling pictures of Modi and Yogi on either sides of the hoarding keep the visitors company here as well.

The Kumbh administration has built pontoon bridges that lead the visitors to the five-kilometre bathing ghat at Sangam. These bridges can only be reached after passing through the by-lanes of the city, which are dotted with hundreds of such hoardings and posters at regular intervals.

While several such hoardings in multiple colours and sizes attract the visitors visually, there are occasional political sloganeering in the praise of the two leaders that reverberate the Kumbh nagri.

Organised processions of men, women and sadhus were seen late on Monday evening, hailing lord Ram and calling for the construction of a grand Ram Temple at the disputed Babri Masjid site. Such slogans, almost routinely, shift from singing the praises of gods to those of PM Modi.

Visitors too seem to have entered the election mood as political conversations and predictions can be heard at roadside tea stalls and dhabas. This gathering of Hindu pilgrims also becomes significant for its political implications as Congress President Rahul Gandhi had recently set on a Mandir-hopping exercise before the state assembly elections.

The Kumbh Mela, 2019 is being held from January 15 to March 4, with six important bathing dates. Makar Sankranti, which falls on Tuesday, was the first of these dates for bathing, and officials expect over a crore devotees to take the holy dip on the first day of the fair.

By Saket Suman

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Modi’s policy transformed Jammu & Kashmir into a conflict zone

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PM Modi

Narendra Modi,in his first tenure as Prime Minister has transformed Jammu and Kashmir into a conflict zone and this blunder of his, will emerge as a big lesson for the future leaders.

The Narendra Modi government at the centre has created a new form of division or faultline by labelling some regions dominated by Hindus and other by Muslims and then attempting to play one region against another so as to bring disharmony in the state and further in the country as a whole on the basis of religion.

The Modi government at the centre is so power hungry that it has crushed the democracy succeeding in Jammu and Kashmir, more so it is under his leadership that Kashmir issue has been internationalised as is evident by the meetings held between Former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and top Kashmiri separatists in Srinagar and with Masood Khan in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

The most important point must be taken into account that India has consistently ruled out any third-party mediation, including by the United Nations or the US, and maintained that Kashmir was a bilateral issue.

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg came to India and said that the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan could not be solved only from a military standpoint, and that popular support was also important.

Solberg said the former PM’s visit to Kashmir was strictly a private one, which did not involve either government and he was invited and he wanted to see if there were some possibilities of helping out but there was no official mission.

It is a very significant development in the troubled state of Kashmir as Norway is known for playing a constructive role in resolving the conflict across the globe and Norway had negotiated peace between the Sri Lankan government and LTTE rebels in 2005.

Bondevik meetings with All Party Hurriyat Conference leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq reflects that Modi’s muscular policy that has failed to bring normlacy in the state and stoked a fresh wave of armed insurgency in the Valley.

Kashmir has been on the boil since July 2016 when security forces shot protesting civilians heading to the funeral of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen militant , which started another violent chapter in the state as more than 100 killed,over 12,000 injured, 1,000 lost their vision in one eye after being hit by pellets and five were blinded in 2016 .

Consequently, thousands of youth were arrested and voter turnout for srinagar by-election in 2017 plunged to an all- time low (27-year low) of 7.14 per cent of the 12.61 lakh electorate.Further, a repoll in 38 polling stations on April 13 saw only a two percent turnout.

Then sensing trouble for the Saffron party prospects in 2018 and 2019 elections, BJP suddenly ended its alliance with the PDP citing worsening terrorism and violence as reason in the state in June 19,2018,thus bringing the state under the Governor’s rule.The PDP-BJP coalition came to power in Jammu and Kashmir in 2015.

Then the president’s rule was imposed in Jammu and Kashmir on the night of December 19 after a gap of more than two decades is a pointer to the worsening situation in the state.

Allowing “third party mediation”(meeting of Norway representative with kashmiri separatists) in Jammu and Kashmir has drastically affected Modi ‘s image abroad and at home while maintaining aggressive approach in dealing with Kashmir is a palpable loss of control and India’s image abroad at stake. But the Centre appears unperturbed rather home minister Rajnath Singh has promised that India “will see a transformed Kashmir in a year.

Youths which were arrested during 2016 to Sep 2017 were released by Mufti’s initiative so as to start the dialogue between all stakeholders. Mehbooba ordered the withdrawal of acses of stone pelting against 4327 youths.
For the first time in 35 years that the BJP was a coalition partner in the state government.

Sensing malafide activities of Bharatiya Janata Party of wooing PDP MLAs, the PDp chief and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti who claimed the support of her rival Omar Abdullah and the Congress claimed to form the government while Sajad Lone, whose two-member party was backed by the BJP also claimed to form government.

Governor Satyapal Malik defended his sudden decision to dissolve the Jammu and Kashmir assembly . He claimed unstable government will be formed citing horse trading,treason,impossibility of forming a stable government by the coming together of political parties with opposing political ideologies .

Political parties were suspicion of Governor’s hurried action but he cleared the air, saying, “Had I looked towards Delhi (the centre), then I would have been forced to invite Sajad Lone to form the government. Then I would have gone down in history as unscrupulous. But I ended the whole thing. Those who want to abuse me can do so, but I am convinced I did the right thing.”

Kashmir is Asia’s most dangerous flash points, where a million troops have squared off along the disputed border and infiltration of terrorists have increased many fold and terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen reportedly held a meeting at the heart of Srinagar city, at Hazratbal Shrine on November 20 attended by terrorists from Hizbul, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror groups.


In the absence of policy to govern the state, Jammu Kashmir has caught the international attention due to increased civilian killings and the rise in trend of youth joining terror groups. Chief of Army Staff Gen Bipin Rawat’s statement of implementing the policy of treating terrorists and stone pelters on the same plane has brought forth a new narrative where the militants are being described as Kashmiris.

People in Jammu and Kashmir are hoping for a new government with a new perspective and a better approach to solve the Kashmir issue that can bring normalcy in the state.

arti


Blog: By Arti Bali,

(Senior Journalist)

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