Rahul Gandhi takes charge of Congress Party

Rahul Gandhi kisses his mother Sonia Gandhi after taking charge as the president of Congress Party in New Delhi on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 16 December 2017
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Rahul Gandhi takes charge of Congress Party

NEW DELHI: Rahul Gandhi formally assumed leadership of India’s oldest political party, the Indian National Congress, on Saturday. Gandhi took over from his mother Sonia, who has been head of the party since 1998.
It is the first time in the 70 years of Indian independence that leadership of the 132-year-old party has changed leadership while the incumbent party president is still alive.
Gandhi, 47, became a parliamentarian in 2004 and has been vice president of the party since 2013.
The change in leadership comes at a time when the party — which played a pivotal role in liberating the country from the British in 1947 — is facing the biggest crisis in its history.
In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Congress had its worst ever electoral performance, winning just 44 seats out of 545. The party currently rules only six out of 29 states in India.
Since 2013, the young scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family has been the subject of political derision from his opponents and from social media, where many have questioned his emotional and intellectual capability.
But Vinod Sharma, political editor of the Hindustan Times, told Arab News that public opinion of Gandhi is rapidly improving, particularly in light of Congress’s performance in the campaign for the ongoing legislative assembly election in Gujarat.
“The Gujarat election campaign has been a turning point in the career of the Congress leader,” Sharma said. “Those who used to deride him started taking him seriously for the simple reason that he has very candidly addressed issues which touch the lives of the people. His campaign was reassuring, and that has made him widely accepted.
“The challenge for Rahul Gandhi now is to set up a new team and prepare the party for electoral victory,” Sharma added. “The party is in a derelict state in many states and does not have the kind of organization that can win elections. It has to start from grassroots and move upwards.”
In his inaugural address as president of the Congress Party, Gandhi hinted he would pursue a different kind of politics than that being followed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The prime minister is taking us backwards to medieval times, where people are being butchered because of who they are, beaten for what they believe in, and killed for what they eat,” he said.
Sharma told Arab News, “I think his speech was a mix of aggression and conciliation. By talking of dialogue with people, including the members of the BJP, Gandhi is signaling a positive approach and a new kind of politics.”
Priya Dutt, a Congress politician from Mumbai, said, “Everybody is looking at his leadership and wants him to usher in necessary changes in the party to regain lost ground.
“Congress is in the DNA of the people of India and no force can obliterate that and I hope that the new energy that Rahul Gandhi brings into the party will transform the organization,” Dutt told Arab News.
However, BJP member Shina N C, told Arab News that Gandhi’s promotion is simply “a symbol of dynasty.”
“Rahul Gandhi has nothing new to offer the people of India,” Shina said.
Before the 2019 general elections, 16 Indian states, most of them ruled by the BJP, are going to the polls.
The first challenge for Gandhi will be to wrest some of those states from his political rivals, and give momentum to his campaign for the big battle in 2019.


Philippines may become region’s ‘defense industry hub’

Updated 20 September 2018
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Philippines may become region’s ‘defense industry hub’

  • Israel wants to manufacture UAVs in the Philippines
  • Russia and South Korea looking for arms and defense manufacturing facilities

MANILA: The Philippines may become the region’s defense industry hub after several countries expressed an interest in basing their arms and defense manufacturing facilities in the country.

Among the facilities are firearms and force protection plants, as well as ones for aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson, Arsenio Andolong, cited at least three countries — Israel, Russia and South Korea — as among those with a keen interest to undertake such projects.

However no agreement has been signed yet and proposals are still in the exploratory stage, Andolong said.

There are plans, however, to create a zone processing defense material at the 370-hectare Government Arsenal (GA) in Limay, Bataan. It will be called the Government Arsenal Defense Industrial Economic Zone (GADIEZ), which will accommodate foreign defense firms that want to establish their manufacturing plants in the Philippines.

With Israel, negotiations have been ongoing. “It all began when we purchased our latest acquisitions from them, the force protection equipment during the time of (then Defense Secretary Voltaire) Gazmin,” Andolong said.

“They became more aggressive when we started doing market research for the many things that we wanted. In one of our meetings the plan to put up an export processing zone for war materiel was discussed and that’s when they expressed interest,” he said.

But Israel now changed its focus; they now want to enter into partnership with Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation.

An agreement has yet to be signed however between the Philippine government and an Israeli firm for its entry through aircraft repair.

“I think eventually it will lead to setting up a UAV manufacturing facility,” a highly placed source said.

Russia, meanwhile, is more likely to have a firearms factory in Bataan province, in central Lozun region.

That is despite the ceremonial signing of a Letter of Intent (LoI) of Silver Shadow Advanced Security Systems (SASS) and Rayo Illuminar Corporation (RIC) to “explore opportunities in the manufacturing and refurbishment of small arms and ammunition,” during Duterte’s recent visit to Israel. The project is estimated to be worth $50 million.

Russia, according to Andolong, has been sending representatives to the country to discuss their offer for a joint production facility to produce Russian assault rifles, or AK47s.

“The Russians verbally communicated that they would like to go into a partnership with the GA to manufacture AK47 rifles in the Philippines. But at this time it’s still a verbal proposal. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has required them to submit a feasibility study.”

A proposal by a South Korean firm that also wanted to set up a firearms factory in the Philippines was put on hold after they gave terms and conditions that were not acceptable — such as “there will be capitalization from the government.”

“So everything is still fluid but Russia is in the running because they are offering many nice goodies,” the DND spokesperson said. “Like the submarines, for example; they said if the Philippines can’t afford to purchase then they can give a soft loan to finance it. And they also mentioned about packages they can use to start up the business.”

Andolong said that the reason that these countries chose the Philippines to set up their facilities was mainly because “they want to create a hub here in the Southeast since they don’t have a presence here yet.”

“It may also be “because of our location. Aside from that we are I think the first Southeast Asian country who offered this,” he said.

“The Philippines is close to many potential markets of Russia and Israel, because these two countries, their main exports really are armaments and they have no footprint in this region,” he said.