India’s Rahul Gandhi urged to make ‘drastic changes’ after election loss

Rahul Gandhi speaks with his mother during Congress Working Committee meeting in New Delhi on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 25 May 2019
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India’s Rahul Gandhi urged to make ‘drastic changes’ after election loss

  • Congress Party leader’s offer to resign is rejected after the election victory of PM Narendra Modi's BJP party
  • For the second time, the nationalist BJP thumped what was once India's dominant political party

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition on Saturday urged its leader to make “drastic changes” following the party’s heavy and humiliating defeat in the recent general election.

It is the second consecutive time that Rahul Gandhi’s Indian National Congress has been thumped by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the polls. Official data from the Election Commission showed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP increased its majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, from 282 seats to 303. Congress, on the other hand, nudged up its presence by a mere eight seats.

The loss also means that Congress has failed for the second time in a row to secure the minimum number of seats needed to be leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. 

Gandhi offered to resign in the wake of the routing. But his offer was rejected by the party’s working committee, which urged him to make “drastic changes” to revitalize the 134-year-old organization.

“We need Rahul Gandhi to guide us in these challenging times," Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala told reporters after the committee meeting. “The party will do a serious introspection about its defeat and it has authorized Rahul Gandhi to make drastic and constructive changes at all levels of the party’s organization. Congress is always committed to combat divisive and communal forces and stand up to the challenges of the time.”

The party has dominated India’s political landscape since the early 20th century and played a major part in the fight for independence, ruling for decades after 1947. The Gandhi family has also dominated the party. Congress has fared well in previous elections, winning outright or forming a coalition, until the rise of the right-wing and nationalist BJP juggernaut.

Prof. Mahesh Rangarajan, from Ashoka University, said the party was in serious crisis whether it was in terms of numbers, alliances or ideas.  “They need to go for serious introspection,” he told Arab News. “The way the BJP redefined itself in the 1980s, can Congress do that? There is a serious crisis and they need to admit it and try new responses to this crisis. 

“The BJP had two seats between 1984 to 1989 and was able to redefine the political debate. Congress is unable to redefine the contours of the political debate and enthuse adequate energy in the party. The irony is that Rahul Gandhi is the youngest leader among all the national parties, but it appears that the leadership has not been able to connect with any major section of voters, particularly the young who are large in number.”

Congress was able to add 10 million votes to its tally from the 2014 election. But this number fell far short of the votes hoovered up by the BJP, which got a bump of 50 million from the previous poll. 

Prof. Zoya Hasan, from Jawaharlal University, said the party’s “spectacular” defeat had more consequences than the one five years ago. 

“The party’s decline is not irreversible,” she told Arab News. “But in the long road ahead, it has to figure out what it actually stands for, and what it will take to stand up to Modi’s BJP.”

Modi’s stunning victory was hailed by India’s A-list, including cricketer Virat Kohli and actor Salman Khan.

On May 23, when the votes were counted, Rahul tweeted that he “accepted the verdict of the people of India” and congratulated the prime minister. He lost his own parliamentary seat, in a constituency long-held by his famous family.

Young activist and Congress member Angellica Aribam was undeterred by the dismal performance of the party and its leader.

“I cannot and do not foresee a Congress without Rahul Gandhi. What needs to change, though, is the organizational machinery,” she tweeted on Saturday.

She said the party needed to “recapture” the imagination of young India.

“In the history of India, whenever Congress was written off, it has re-emerged with new vigor,” she told Arab News. “These are testing times for us but we also know that we will rise again. The BJP champions pseudo-nationalism but Congress believes in the constitution, which doesn’t discriminate against anyone on the basis of caste, religion or gender. We will continue to remain an inclusive party. What we need to redefine is our organizational machinery not our core beliefs.”


Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

Updated 26 June 2019
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Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

  • But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues
  • The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance

NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reduce heightened trade tension with India on Wednesday, promising a renewed focus on negotiating improved trade and investment ties between the two nations.
But Pompeo, on a visit to India, gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues ranging from access to Indian markets for leading American companies to New Delhi’s demands for foreign firms to store Indian data in the country, and exports of steel and aluminum to the United States.
The two nations are “friends who can help each other all around the world,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar after they met.
The current differences were expressed “in the spirit of friendship,” he added.
The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance.
In particular, the sudden introduction of new e-commerce rules for foreign investors in February angered the Americans because it showed New Delhi was prepared to move the goalposts to hurt two of the largest US companies, discount retailer Walmart, and Amazon.com Inc.
Walmart last year invested $16 billion to buy control of Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart.
Just days before Pompeo’s visit, India slapped higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products following Washington’s withdrawal of key trade privileges for New Delhi.
Jaishankar, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, played down the spat on Wednesday.
“If you trade with someone and they are your biggest trading partner, it is impossible you don’t have trade issues,” he said.
India’s ties with Russia and Iran, both now subject to US sanctions, are also a sore point.
US pressure has led India to stop buying oil from Iran, a top energy supplier. The United States has also stepped up pressure on India not to proceed with its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
The missile deal and Iranian oil were both discussed during their meeting, Jaishankar and Pompeo said, but mentioned no resolution of either at the news conference.
Earlier, Pompeo met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talks at his official residence in the capital, New Delhi, and they exchanged handshakes in images broadcast on television.
“The Prime Minister expressed his strong commitment to achieve the full potential of bilateral relations in trade and economy, energy, defense, counterterrorism and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Pompeo is expected to round off the trip with a policy speech hosted by the US embassy, before departing on Thursday for a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 nations in Japan.