India’s oldest party at the crossroads — faces existential crisis

Supporters of Karnataka Congress and Janatha Dal (Secular) coalition government participate in a demonstration staged by the parties coalition government against the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) and its alleged horse trading, in Bangalore on July 10, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 10 July 2019

India’s oldest party at the crossroads — faces existential crisis

  • Congress finding it difficult to hold on to party cadres and legislators

NEW DELHI: The opposition Congress party staged protests in different parts of the country on Wednesday over what it called an attempt by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to topple its coalition government in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. The party also staged a walkout in both houses of Parliament.

The party alleges that the BJP is trying to break party legislators in Karnataka by offering them huge sums of money. It blames the Hindu rightwing outfit for keeping eight of its lawmakers hostage in a hotel in Mumbai.

Ever since it lost its second general election in the past five years, the oldest political outfit in India has been in a state of disarray, with the Congress finding it difficult to hold on to its party cadres and legislators.

The crisis has deepened with the resignation of its president, Rahul Gandhi, who took responsibility for the party’s defeat in the elections.

Established in 1885, the Congress played a pivotal role in India’s struggle for independence. Gandhi’s family has been heading the party since 1947, except for a brief period in the 1990s.

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was Gandhi’s grandfather. Two years after Nehru’s death in 1964, his daughter Indira Gandhi became the premier and ruled the country almost unchallenged until 1984. Her son Rajiv Gandhi, father of Rahul Gandhi, then assumed power and led the country until 1989.

Rahul’s mother, Sonia Gandhi, assumed the mantle of the party in 1998 and remained party president until 2017. Rahul succeeded her.

In 2019, his younger sister Priyanka Gandhi also made an entry into the party by becoming one of its regional general secretaries.

The party now faces a situation where it has the challenge of electing a leader who does not belong to the dynasty.

Political analysts say that the crisis in the southern Indian state is more to do with the party’s state of affairs at the national level than the BJP’s attempt to break the state unit.

Top-rung leaders of the party are divided over the process of electing a new president.

On Tuesday, a senior party leader, Janardan Dwivedi, questioned the consultative mechanism of its highest decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), and its power to elect a new leader.

His questioning of the CWC’s power has intensified the battle between young and old within the Congress party.

The party is also in a confusion about the future role of Rahul Gandhi in the party. In his resignation letter, the 49-year-old leader talked about fighting the BJP with renewed strength in the time to come.

Some Congress leaders feel that this is the time for the party to regroup and re-energize itself for future challenges.

“I feel that Rahul Gandhi has taken a very courageous step by resigning from the post and he has set a great example for the young cadres of the party,” said Angellica Aribam, a young Congress leader.

“The party is not facing an existential crisis. The Congress has lived without the Gandhi dynasty in the past and it can do the same even now,” said Aribam, who started her career as a student leader.

She told Arab News: “The Gandhi family remains very much active in the party with Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi all very much busy with their political activism. Two days ago Rahul Gandhi addressed the new parliamentarians in Delhi.”

She said, however that “the party needs the change at every level of the organization. The leadership will emerge through consensus.”

“The nation needs the Congress and it is the only outfit that can challenge the rising rightwing forces and provide a counter to the BJP’s narrative. The people of the country will not allow the party to fritter away,” she said.

Some political analysts see “a big opportunity for the Congress party to reorganize itself anew.”

“Rahul Gandhi’s resignation has provided the Congress party with a historic opportunity for a dramatic reinvention as an institutionalized modern political party,” said Prof. Zoya Hasan of the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

“The Congress party will have to democratize the party’s structure and hold elections for all the important posts, starting from the post of the party president,” she said. “The Congress has faced many crises in its long history and it has survived those situations.”

She told Arab News that the situation this time was different. “In the past they were in power when they faced the conflict, now they are out of power. Besides, they face a powerful opponent in the BJP, which is very well entrenched and uses all the state institutions to expand its presence.”

“Rahul Gandhi will remain an important leader. He will set the political narrative of the party. He will clearly be engaging in mass politics. His resignation will enhance his prestige not only in the party but also outside,” Hasan said.

“Democracy needs an opposition and the Congress is the only party with an all-India presence. It is the only principal opposition party that has the potential to take on the BJP,” she said.

Khan’s visit opens ‘new chapter’ in ties with US, says minister

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hold a meeting in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 30 min 50 sec ago

Khan’s visit opens ‘new chapter’ in ties with US, says minister

  • Analysts believe Bajwa will play a key role in behind-the-scenes discussions, with the military looking to persuade Washington to restore aid and cooperation

ISLAMABAD: A “new chapter” had been opened in ties between the US and Pakistan, said Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday, a day after US President Donald Trump welcomed Pakistani Premier Imran Khan to the White House to mend relations and seek help in ending the 18-year-old war in neighboring Afghanistan.
Seated next to Khan in the Oval Office on Monday, Trump spoke about improving trade with Pakistan and said he expected Khan would help to negotiate peace in Afghanistan so that US troops could come home.
“We have seen a new beginning; a new chapter is being opened,” Qureshi said at a press conference in Washington. “We should take this positively and hope that things will get better,” he said, adding that Pakistan was focused on “economic diplomacy” and wanted to boost trade with the US.
“The world looks at economics and looks for ways to cater to its own economic needs, so we will try that we also move forward in that direction,” Qureshi said, adding that Trump had accepted Khan’s invitation to visit Pakistan.
During Monday’s meeting, Trump spoke of possibly restoring $1.3 billion in American aid that he had cut last year. Both the leaders also discussed ways to boost bilateral trade as President Trump said the US was willing to invest more in Pakistan and wanted to expand trade by up to 20 times.
Trump also said bilateral relations had improved in recent months. “To be honest, we have a better relationship with Pakistan right now than we did when we were paying the money,” he said, referring to last year’s decision to suspend US security assistance to Pakistan to compel it to crack down on militants.
The comments were a far cry from last year when Trump had complained on Twitter that the Pakistanis “have given us nothing but lies & deceit” and “give safe haven” to militants. Pakistan has denied the accusations.
Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who accompanied Khan to Washington, also met the top American military officer, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford.

Analysts believe Bajwa will play a key role in behind-the-scenes discussions, with the military looking to persuade Washington to restore aid and cooperation.

Commenting on the Khan-Trump meeting, foreign affairs expert Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi said both sides wanted to improve the bilateral relationship through a new framework, the details of which would be settled in the next few months through meetings between officials of the two governments.
“American support to Pakistan will depend on two things, to what extent Pakistan is willing to facilitate agreement with the [Afghan] Taliban and the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, and secondly if Pakistan continues action against militants on its soil,” Askari said.
“Pakistan’s military to military and civilian government’s relationship with the US will improve manifold in the coming months if we stop pursuing a dual-track approach,” Rizvi said, referring to accusations in the past that Pakistan was selective in its crackdown on terrorists.
After a one-on-one meeting with Khan, President Trump said he could win the Afghan war in just 10 days by wiping out Afghanistan but did not want to kill 10 million people.
“There is no military solution in Afghanistan,” Khan said in agreement. “If you go all-out military, there would be millions and millions of people who would die.”
“I think Pakistan is going to do a lot (with respect to Afghanistan),” Trump said. “I really do. I think Pakistan is going to make a big difference.”