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Sonia’s return temporary, need organisational polls: Tharoor

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Shashi-Tharoor

Describing as a “temporary arrangement” the return of Sonia Gandhi to the post of Congress president, senior party leader Shashi Tharoor on Wednesday reiterated his call for elections to all leadership positions in order to revive the party and energise its workers.

In an interview with IANS, the career diplomat-turned politician spoke on the ongoing protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and its potential to bring about opposition unity, the “dismal” situation in the country 68 months into Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial reign and the “uniformly negative” headlines in the world media about the happenings in India where “the social fabric is in tatters” and “tensions are dividing the society”.

The former Union minister said the Congress “certainly has to make a real effort” to revive.

According to the Thiruvananthapuram MP, party interim chief Sonia Gandhi had been a “very effective leader” in the past, but she chose to make way for the new generation of leadership.

Gandhi took over as president of the party in 1998 and was at the helm till September, 2017, when she made way for her son Rahul Gandhi. However, Rahul stepped down after the party’s disappointing show in last year’s general election when the Congress got only 44 seats. After lot of deliberations, Sonia Gandhi was made the interim chief last August.

“She had already made way for a new generation of leadership. So her coming back to office is clearly only a temporary arrangement. I have publicly called for elections to all the leadership positions including the working committee, so the party can be revived, we can energise the workers, stimulate interest among the voters,” said Tharoor on the sidelines of the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet here.

Calling the Congress the party of Indian nationalism and inclusive India, he said it was the “natural alternative” to the “divisive and frankly negative politics” of the ruling BJP-spearheaded NDA government of Modi.

He said the ongoing intense anti-CAA protests seemed unique in the sense that they were “largely self-motivated by ordinary citizens”, and political parties were not the engine of the movement.

“The ordinary people, the students out on the campuses, the housewives on the streets, the ladies of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, these are people who are not organised by political parties.

“They themselves are genuinely protesting about what is being done to their country. And to my mind that is the extraordinary thing about these protests”.

He said with many political parties agreeing or wanting to support the people’s protests, “if all goes well we will have an opportunity to try and, to put it bluntly, use the awakened consciousness of the public to bring parties together”.

Tharoor, who handled the portfolios of minister of state for external affairs and human resource development in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet, said the challenge in uniting the opposition lay in the fact that many opposition parties are themselves rivals in their home states.

“Apart from the Congress and the BJP, everyone has a strongly regional focus, often confined to one state – whether it is Trinamool Congress in Bengal, CPI-M in Kerala, or Samajwadi Party in UP, etc.”

“And because of the state focus, naturally their success in their own states sometimes can seem more important than subordinating themselves in Delhi to a party that may be their rival in their home state. These are issues which have to be worked out,” said Tharoor.

Coming down heavily on the Modi government, he said rather than implementing its slogan of ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikaas’ (Development for all), the government has done the opposite by dividing the nation and failed to usher in any development.

He alleged while the economic growth has plummeted, there has been price escalation of every item, with unemployment touching a record high, and farmers’ suicides breaking all records.

“Every indicator is negative…. Where can we find anything positive to look at in this government’s performance?”

He said “even bigger than the economic failure” was the “divisive socio-cultural agenda” that is dividing the country on identity issues and religion.

In an obvious reference to the government passing the CAA and time and again talking about a possible nationwide NRC to drive away “infiltrators”, Tharoor said: “Why these people are obsessed about a religious issue that was settled 70 years ago, I don’t know. But today they are reopening wounds that should have been left to heal, rather than made worse and inflamed by their conduct.”

Turning to Modi’s foreign policy, he said the Prime Minister brought a lot of energy to his initial travels around the world.

“But the problem is that everyone looks at the reality of the country behind him. You can be a very good salesman, but even the best salesman can only sell an empty package up to a point.

“Once you have bought an empty package once or twice, you won’t buy it again. And so many people have turned away from India. If you look at the world media today, there is not a single positive story about India … all uniformly negative,” he said.

He ridiculed Modi loyalists’ claims that the Prime Minister has raised the stature of India globally.

“I’d like to see some evidence for that. Because if anything, we have never seen in the 72 years of India’s independence, except for the period of emergency (1975-77), such an unsustained level of negative, unfriendly headlines, dismayed by what is being done by Modi to this country.”

Politics

British MP’s visa was canceled before she landed in India

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Debbie Abrahams

New Delhi, Feb 18 : The UK opposition member of the British Parliament Debbie Abrahams who has alleged that she was “unjustifiably denied entry to India”, did not carry a valid visa, the government sources said.

Government sources told IANS that Abrahams was not in the possession of a valid visa at the time of her travel to India and she was accordingly requested to return.

She was issued an e-business visa on October 7, 2019 which was valid till October 5, 2020 to attend business meetings, sources said.

Her e-business visa was revoked on February 14 on account of her indulging in activities which went against India’s national interest, a source said.

“The rejection of the e-business visa, sources said, was intimated to her on February 14, way before she boarded a plane to India.

“The grant, rejection, revocation of visa/electronic travel authorisation (ETA) is the sovereign right of any country,” officials in New Delhi said.

“The previously issued e-business visa was meant for business meetings and not for tourism or visiting family and friends as claimed by her. This is not permitted as per the rules and a separate visa request has to be made,” a visa official said adding that there is no provision of ‘visa on arrival’ for UK nationals at the airport.

Interestingly, the opposition leader and Congress parliamentarian Abhishek Singhvi justified Abrahams deportation. Terming it “necessary”, Singhvi who is also a noted lawyer, tweeted: “She is not just an MP but a Pak proxy known for her clasp with Pak govt and ISI. Every attempt that tries to attack India’s sovereignty must be thwarted.”

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India

Congress cautious on Labour MP Abrahams’ visa denial

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Debbie Abrahams

New Delhi, Feb 18 : The Congress has been cautious on the issue of the deportation of British Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, who was denied entry into India and was sent back from New Delhi airport. Congress leader Gourav Vallabh said that “the government should come out with facts on what happened”.

Another Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi has backed her deportation.

“The deportation of Debbie Abrahams by India was indeed necessary, as she is not just an MP, but a Pak proxy known for her clasp with Pak government and ISI. Every attempt that tries to attack India’s sovereignty must be thwarted.” tweeted Singhvi.

Debbie Abrahams, who chairs a UK parliamentary group on Kashmir, said she arrived at Delhi airport at about 8.50 a.m. on Monday, and claimed that her visa was valid till October 2020 and she was visiting her Indian relatives. She was accompanied by her Indian members of staff.

Narrating her side of the story, she said the immigration official in New Delhi “looked at his screen and started shaking his head. Then he told me my visa was rejected. he took my passport and disappeared for about 10 minutes. When he came back he was very rude and aggressive as he shouted ‘come with me’.”

“I told him not to speak to me like that & was then taken to a cordoned off area marked as a Deportee Cell. He then ordered me to sit down & I refused. I didn’t know what they might do or where else they may take me, so I wanted people to see me. He disappeared again when I rang my sister-in-law’s cousin, Kai, who I was meant to be staying with. Kai got in touch with the British High Commission & he tried to find out what was going on,” the British MP said in her statement.

“After lots of different immigration officials came to me, I tried to establish why the visa had been revoked and if I could get a ‘visa on arrival’ but no one seemed to know. Even the person who seemed to be in-charge said he didn’t know & was really sorry about what had happened,” Abrahams said.

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Politics

Gandhi, Godse cannot go hand-in-hand: Kishor

The latest to join his bandwagon is Tamil Nadu’s DMK, which has roped in I-PAC to strategise its campaign for next Assembly elections.

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Prashant-Kishor

Patna, Feb 18 : Political strategist and politician Prashant Kishor on Tuesday hit out at Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar saying that his party JD-U was aligning with those “going soft on Mahatma Gandhi’s killer”, adding that the ideologies of the Father of the Nation and his assassin Nathuram Godse cannot go hand in hand.

“There has been a lot of discussion between me and Nitish ji on the party ideology. He has his own thought process and I have mine. There have been differences between him and me — the ideologies of Godse and Gandhi cannot stay together. You have to say which side you are on,” said Kishor, who was expelled from the Janata Dal-United last month.

“Nitishji always told us that the party can never leave the ideals of Gandhiji. But now, the party is with those who are soft on Gandhi’s killer Godse. For me, Gandhiji and Godse cannot go hand in hand,” he added.

Kishor, who runs a consultancy firm Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) and rebel leader Pavan Varma were thrown out by the Nitish Kumar’s JD-U after its senior leadership was locked in an ugly war of words with the duo.

The 43-year-old strategist, who helped Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in strategising in the run-up to the Assembly elections, will launch his “Baat Bihar Ki” campaign from February 20 to reach out to the people of his native state.

“My relationship with Nitish Kumar has never been a political one; he always treated me as a son. Those who know us will vouch for this. I also consider him a father figure,” Kishor said at a press conference here, his first after expulsion from JD-U on January 29.

Kishor was accused of questioning the JD-U stand on the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Kishor also accused the JD-U chief of making an “ideological compromise” to stay in an alliance with the BJP.

“Many JD-U leaders feel that staying in an alliance with the BJP will help the party. And the Chief Minister believes that in an alliance there are times when you have to compromise.”

He revealed that his ideological differences with Nitish Kumar first emerged during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. “We had a standoff on two points. It’s not new, it started during the Lok Sabha elections,” Kishor said.

Kishor joined the JD-U in September 2018. He first entered the political arena in 2011 when he met then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and helped him stitch his third consecutive win in the Gujarat Assembly polls in 2012. However, it was his active involvement in Modi’s 2014 Lok Sabha campaign “an election that is a textbook case for everything done right” that catapulted him to instant fame with his ‘chai pe charcha’ campaign.

After the success of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the Bihar polls in 2015, Kishor was a hot property which every political party vouched for. And the results of elections in Punjab in 2017, Andhra Pradesh in 2019, West Bengal by-polls in 2019, and now Delhi in 2020 have further increased his demand.

The only failure for Kishor so far has been the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls in 2017, wherein the Congress and the Samajwadi Party combine lost to the BJP despite campaigns like ‘Khat pe charcha’ and ‘UP ke Ladke’.

The latest to join his bandwagon is Tamil Nadu’s DMK, which has roped in I-PAC to strategise its campaign for next Assembly elections.

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