India scion Priyanka Gandhi lambasts Modi on home turf

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra Congress general secretary for eastern Uttar Pradesh, gestures to supporters as she returns after visit Kashi Vishwanath temple, during her three day boat trip from Allahabad to Varanasi along the Ganges river as part of the election campaign, in Varanasi on March 20, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 20 March 2019
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India scion Priyanka Gandhi lambasts Modi on home turf

  • Priyanka Gandhi wrapped up a pre-election boat tour along the Ganges river on Wednesday, disembarking in Narendra Modi's home constituency

VARANASI, INDIA: The newest star in India's Nehru-Gandhi dynasty wrapped up a pre-election boat tour along the Ganges river on Wednesday, disembarking in Narendra Modi's home constituency to attack the prime minister's record.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, sister of Rahul Gandhi who wants to unseat Modi in elections starting on April 11, announced her long-awaited entry into politics in January, bolstering the hopes of the opposition Congress party, which has been dominated by her family for generations.
Their father was Rajiv Gandhi, assassinated in 1991, their grandmother Indira Gandhi, killed by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984, and their great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister.
Arriving after her three-day cruise in Varanasi, the northern holy city famous for its riverside cremations where Modi stood for election in 2014, Priyanka said people must stand up against his "anti-people" policies.
"You can bring about a change. You must raise your voice for a new government who will make policies for you and understand your problems," the 47-year-old said.
"The farmers of this country are suffering. He is neck-deep in debt and is committing suicide. He does not get seeds and fertilisers on time, he is not getting the right price for his produce," she added.
The opposition has been targeting Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over a lack of jobs, slowing growth and the desperate situation of farmers in the lead-up to the gargantuan election which ends May 19.
The centre-left Congress party, which has ruled India for about half a century since the country became independent in 1947, was thrashed by the BJP five years ago, with Modi promising to create jobs, stamp out corruption, and bring "Achhe Din" ("Good Days").
Modi's party however has been boosted after India and arch-rival Pakistan lurched alarmingly close to war last month following a suicide bombing in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops.
Priyanka, who for years resisted calls to enter politics, launched her campaign in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Monday, hopping on to a motorboat on the Ganges river, which is considered sacred by the country's majority Hindu community.
The state is a part of the Hindi "cow belt" heartland of some 475 million people — nearly as many as the United States, Canada and Mexico combined — where the BJP has its core support base.


Scotland will prepare for a second independence vote regardless of UK: FM Nicola Sturgeon

Updated 18 min 6 sec ago
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Scotland will prepare for a second independence vote regardless of UK: FM Nicola Sturgeon

  • Scotland will start preparing for independence referendum before May 2021 without permission from Westminster
  • London's approval, however, would eventually be necessary

EDINBURGH: Scotland will start preparing for an independence referendum before May 2021 without permission from London, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Wednesday.
Scotland, part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years, rejected independence by 10 percentage points in a 2014 referendum. But differences over Brexit have strained relations with England and the British government in London.
"A choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament," Sturgeon told Scotland's devolved parliament.
She said a devolved parliament bill would be drawn up before the end of 2019, and that Scotland did not need permission at this stage from London.
London's approval, however, would eventually be necessary "to put beyond doubt or challenge our ability to apply the bill to an independence referendum," she said.
The United Kingdom voted 52-48 to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, but while Wales and England vote to leave, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.
In the campaign for the 2014 independence referendum, unionists said that the only way for Scotland to stay in the EU was to remain within the United Kingdom. The Scottish National Party (SNP), which controls the devolved parliament in Edinburgh, says that a second referendum is justified as Scotland is now being dragged out of the bloc against its will.
With most Scots unhappy at Brexit, Sturgeon is under pressure from independence supporters to offer a clear way forward in the quest to break from the United Kingdom.
Britain is mired in political chaos and it is still unclear whether, when or even if it will leave the European Union.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and Britain's leading polling expert, said Sturgeon was keeping her own troops happy while leaving her options open.
She probably has until October or November of 2020 to hold a new vote once Brexit happens, he said.
Since Scots rejected independence 55-45 percent in 2014, polls show that support has changed little. Grassroots supporters will launch a new campaign this week before the SNP spring conference this weekend.
"I think she was implicitly acknowledging that while it might be impossible (to get permission) out of the current (UK) parliament, it might be a lot easier if we get a general election between now and the end of the year, and the SNP may well find itself in the kingmaker role," Curtice told Reuters.
Her address took a noticeably conciliatory tone.
"The question that confronts us now is this: if the status quo is not fit for purpose - and I know even some of the most committed believers in the union find it hard to argue that it is - how do we fix it?" she said.
Those who want to maintain the United Kingdom argue that Brexit has made no difference to how Scots feel, and the secession vote should not be repeated.
"Nicola Sturgeon continues to press for divisive constitutional change when it is clear that most people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum," said David Mundell, Britain's Scotland minister.
Sturgeon argued that leaving the world's largest trading bloc endangers Britain and Scotland's economic well-being.
"We face being forced to the margins, sidelined within a UK that is itself increasingly sidelined on the international stage. Independence by contrast would allow us to protect our place in Europe."