Rahul Gandhi files nomination papers from south India

Campaign shirts for sale inside a shop at a market ahead of India’s general election in Kolkata. (Reuters)
Updated 04 April 2019
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Rahul Gandhi files nomination papers from south India

  • Rahul Gandhi is the fourth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for much of its history
  • Rahul Gandhi said his candidacy emphasized the unity of India

NEW DELHI: With the election campaign in full swing in India, the opposition Congress party’s president Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination papers from the Wayanad constituency of the southern Indian state of Kerala on Thursday.

This is for the first time in his 15-year political career that Gandhi has chosen to contest from a seat in south India besides running from his traditional stronghold in Amethi in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

“I want to send a message that India is one,” said Gandhi.

“The way Narendra Modi is working there has been a feeling among people across India that there was an attack on the culture, history, language of south India, and by coming here I want to give a message that I stand for the unity of India,” the Congress president to the media after filing his nomination.

Wayanad falls on the junction of three important South Indian states — Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala — and the victory in these states, where Congress has strong presence, is crucial for the party’s political prospects in New Delhi.

Political analysts say that since the grand old party is weak in some of the crucial states in North India, it wants to consolidate its presence in most of the 134 parliamentary constituencies in the the five South Indian states.

However, Gandhi’s foray into Wayanad has drawn sharp reaction from both political foes and friends.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main political rival of the Congress party, says that Gandhi has escaped to the south from Amethi fearing his loss and “it is an insult to Amethi.”

“This is a big sign that a person who has enjoyed power piggybacking on Amethi for 15 years has left Amethi and is filing his nomination today from some other place. Amethi will never forget the insult and betrayal,” said Smriti Irani, a senior cabinet minister in the BJP ministry in Delhi.

Parties on the left, who are Congress’ political partners, also criticized Gandhi’s decision to choose Wayanad as a second constituency.

“It goes against Congress’ national commitment to fight the BJP,” says Left leader Prakash Karat.

He said that Kerala is under Left Democratic Front (LDF) government and the BJP is not a force to be reckoned with in the state, so by choosing Wayanad “the Congress is targeting the Left.”

Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh, has been Gandhi’s traditional pocket borough with the Congress president representing the seat since 2004. Before that his father, the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, also represented the seat. This is the first time Gandhi is fighting from two constituencies.

Bangalore based political analyst Aarthi Ramachandran said that it’s politically “bad move” to choose a second constituency.

“What the move does is to build in a layer of separation between Rahul and the politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh,” says Ramachandran, who has also written a biography of Rahul Gandhi, called Decoding Rahul Gandhi.

In the meanwhile, the BJP is also doing its best to capture the imagination of the people.

The launch of NaMo TV (Narendra Modi TV) a few days ago has taken the electoral battle to a new level. It exclusively features Modi’s speeches and the BJP’s achievements and propaganda.

The sudden appearance of the NaMo TV on the screen across India has taken the BJP political rivals by surprise.

They have complained to the Election Commission of India (ECI) for violating the electoral code of conduct. The ECI has sought an explanation from the BJP. The BJP, however, defends it saying it’s run by some followers of the party.

The party has also launched merchandise bearing the name of Prime Minister Modi.

Special mobile vans have been set up to sell Modi jackets, keychains, coffee mugs, wristbands, notebooks and other items.

“Modi is not a name but a big brand in India,” says Nirala, a BJP functionary.

“People want to have the merchandise in his name. The party van has been specially created to capture the imagination of the people, especially younger generation.”

Political analyst Pawan Pratay, who is based in the eastern Indian city of Patna, said that “the BJP is good at marketing itself and it does not want to leave any stone unturned to win the election.”

“But the problem is that in 2014 Modi was an untested brand and his appeal was wide. This time there are people who would not be swayed away by his appeal as happened last time,” he said.


North Korea’s Kim inspects new submarine, signals possible ballistic missile development

Updated 3 min 31 sec ago
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North Korea’s Kim inspects new submarine, signals possible ballistic missile development

  • The new data and combat weapon systems of submarine was built under Kim’s “special attention”
  • Experts said the size of the new submarine suggests it would eventually carry missiles
SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected a large newly built submarine, state news agency KCNA reported on Tuesday, potentially signaling continued development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program.
Kim inspected the operational and tactical data and combat weapon systems of the submarine that was built under “his special attention,” and will be operational in the waters off the east coast, KCNA said.
KCNA said the submarine’s operational deployment was near.
“The operational capacity of a submarine is an important component in national defense of our country bounded on its east and west by sea,” Kim said.
KCNA did not describe the submarine’s weapon systems or say where and when the inspection took place.
North Korea has a large submarine fleet but only one known experimental submarine capable of carrying a ballistic missile.
Analysts said that based on the apparent size of the new submarine it appears designed to eventually carry missiles.
“We can clearly see that it is a massive submarine — much larger than the existing one that’s been well known since 2014,” said Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the US-based Federation of American Scientists.
“What I find significant about the political messaging here is that this is the first time since a February 2018 military parade that he has inspected a military system clearly designed to carry and deliver nuclear weapons.”
“I take that as an ominous signal that we should be taking Kim Jong Un’s end-of-year deadline for the implementation of a change in US policy with the utmost seriousness.”
A South Korean defense ministry spokesman said they were monitoring developments but could not confirm if the submarine was designed to carry missiles.
Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said Kim likely also wanted to reassure North Koreans of his commitment to national defense at a time when he is focusing more on the economy.
“Announcing his inspection of the new submarine is also to build internal solidarity, to dispel people’s concerns about national security, reassure them, and boost military morale,” he said.
Submarine development
Kim has declared a moratorium on testing ICBM’s and nuclear weapons while engaging in denuclearization talks with the United States and South Korea.
The North’s submarine report comes amid another delay in dialogue between the United States and North Korea after Kim and US President Donald Trump agreed at a meeting at the Panmunjom Korean border on June 30 to working-level nuclear talks.
Trump said such talks could come in the following two to three weeks. His national security adviser, John Bolton, arrives in South Korea on Tuesday to meet security officials.
A summit between Trump and Kim, in Vietnam in February, broke down after they failed to narrow differences between a US demand for North Korea’s denuclearization and a North Korean demand for sanctions relief.
In April, Kim said he would wait until the end of the year for the United States to be more flexible.
North Korea maintains one of the world’s largest submarine fleets, but many vessels are aging and there are doubts over how many are operational, according to the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).
Most of North Korea’s fleet consists of small coastal submarines, but in recent years it has made rapid progress in the SLBM program, NTI said in a report released late last year.
In 2016, after a few years of development, North Korea successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine, while pursuing an intercontinental ballistic missile program (ICBM).
During the submarine inspection Kim was accompanied by Kim Jong Sik, an official who played a major role in North Korea’s missile program.
Another official on the tour was Jang Chang Ha, president of the Academy of the National Defense Science, which the US Treasury has said is in charge of the secretive country’s research and development of its advanced weapons systems, “including missiles and probably nuclear weapons.”
H.I. Sutton, a naval analyst who studies submarines, said judging by the initial photos the hull could be based on old Romeo Class submarines, which were originally acquired from China in the 1970s before North Korea began producing them domestically.
North Korea is believed to have about 20 Romeo submarines in its fleet, the newest of which was built in the mid 1990s, according to NTI.
Sutton told Reuters that the North Koreans appeared to have raised the deck on a Romeo-type design, possibly even modifying an existing Romeo to make a submarine larger than previous indigenous designs.
“I’d bet that this is indeed a missile submarine,” he said.
US-based monitoring group 38 North said in June 2018 that North Korea appeared to be continuing submarine construction at its Sinpo Shipyard of possibly another Sinpo-class ballistic missile submarine, based on commercial satellite imagery.
“This, to my eye, is the submarine that the US intelligence community has been calling the Sinpo-C, a successor to North Korea’s only known ballistic missile submarine,” Panda said.