India's Rahul Gandhi set to become Congress Party chief

Rahul Gandhi
Updated 05 December 2017

India's Rahul Gandhi set to become Congress Party chief

NEW DELHI: Rahul Gandhi is set to be named the new leader of India’s Congress Party — the country’s oldest political party.
Monday was the deadline for nominations for party president, and 47-year-old Gandhi is currently the sole nominee, meaning his elevation to chief of the 132-year-old party seems now to be a formality.
Gandhi will likely inherit the leadership from his mother Sonia, who has led the party since 1998. He will be the sixth leader from the Nehru-Gandhi family to occupy the top party post. His great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was India’s first prime minister; his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, led India for 11 years; and his father Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister for five years in the 1980s.
But the Congress Party is in the midst of a crisis. It has its lowest parliamentary presence since India’s independence, with just 44 seats out of 545 in the Lower House, and holds power in only six of India’s 29 states. In major states, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Congress has been pushed to the political margins. And Congress’ dramatic fall has been in direct contrast to the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“There are multiple challenges before Rahul Gandhi today,” said Sudha Pai, a National Fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research and former professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “One challenge is to hold the party together, the second is to put forward an alternative vision so that people regain faith in the party, and third is to build up the organization and make it an election-winning machine.
“In terms of his ability to deal with politics,” she continued, “Rahul Gandhi seems to be far more prepared than (he was) a few years ago.”
Author and journalist Aarthi Ramachandran agrees. She stressed, however, that the timing of Gandhi’s promotion to the top leadership position is important.
“The elevation of Rahul was a fait accompli,” she explained. “What is interesting now is that the party has chosen this particular time, just before the crucial regional elections in Gujarat, for his anointment.”
Ramachandran, who wrote “Decoding Rahul Gandhi,” one of the first biographies of the Congress leader-elect, told Arab News that, unlike predecessors from his family when they have taken power, Gandhi is not “comfortably circumstanced.”
“At a time when (his) family, which has been at the center of the party, is weak and its charisma ebbing, it will be an uphill task to revive the party,” she said. “The new leader will have to work hard to prove his credentials and enhance his acceptance among the prospective alliance partners.”
She added, “Rahul Gandhi shares an uncomfortable relationship with politics and how much he is able to embrace the limitations of existing politics will also shape the Congress in coming years.”
The young and vocal Congress leader Tehseen Poonawalla believes that Gandhi is “the voice of an aspiring and progressive India.”
Poonawalla told Arab News, “We are going through an absolute crisis where our democracy and constitution are under threat. Rahul Gandhi’s elevation is important so that he can lead the opposition charge against the subversion of the constitution that is going on.”
The BJP, however, claims Gandhi's promotion is a result of nepotism rather than ability.
“Rahul Gandhi has inherited the elevation. He has not earned it, as leaders in the BJP do,” G.L.V. Narsimha Rao, the BJP’s national spokesperson, told Arab News. “Dynasty and democracy are mutually inconsistent and an anachronistic concept. But for the Congress Party, keeping tight family control is a priority, rather than allowing leadership to emerge on merit.”
The Gujarat election results on Dec. 19 will be Gandhi’s first major test. Modi’s home state is in turmoil after 22 years of BJP dominance there and the Congress Party sees an opportunity for a statement-making victory. A strong showing in the western state would establish Gandhi as a strong challenger for Modi in the 2019 general elections.


South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

Updated 29 February 2020

South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

  • Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus
  • Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16

SEOUL: With the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketing in South Korea in the past week, a local fringe Christian sect has been blamed for the growing outbreak.
As of Wednesday, a total of 1,261 people had tested positive with 12 deaths reported. Just a week ago, the number of infected persons stood at 50. However, South Korea has seen by far the highest number of the Covid-19 cases outside China.
Health authorities believe the Shincheonji Church of Jesus is at the heart of the alarming spread of the pandemic, as more than half of the confirmed cases have been found to be linked to the religious sect, which is widely regarded as a cult.
“The mass infections came after Shincheonji followers took part in the Feb. 16 service and had frequent contacts around that time,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korean Center for Disease Control (KCDC), told reporters on Wednesday.
Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16. Thousands of worshippers are believed to have attended, authorities said.
The other cluster of infections is a hospital in Cheongdo, a neighboring county of Daegu. Shincheonji members are also known to have visited the hospital, according to the KCDC officials.
Officially called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, the group was founded in 1984 and claims to have around 240,000 followers worldwide.
Shincheonji followers are taught to believe that Lee Man-hee, the founder of the organization, is the second coming or the returned Christ. The church claims the Bible is written in metaphors which only its founder can correctly interpret.
Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus.
“They hold services sitting packed together on the floor and kneel very close to one another,” Shin Hyun-uk, director of the Guri Cult Counseling Center, said.
Shin was a member of the cult for 20 years until 2006 and has been leading a campaign to extract members from the church ever since he realized that “the group was not a normal religion.”
Shin said the Shincheonji churchgoers shout out “amen” at the top of their lungs “after every sentence the pastor utters.”
“While holding services, worshippers send respiratory droplets flying everywhere, causing the virus to be transmitted easily,” he said.
Most members of the church hide their membership, which means the virus goes undetected, Sin warned.
“Few families of the Shincheonji members know their sons, daughters, wives, husbands and parents were taken in the cult religion. I guess only 20 to 30 percent of the family members of the Shincheonji worshippers would recognize it,” he said. “That’s the key reason health officials have difficulty in tracking and curbing the virus being transmitted from worshippers to others.”
A 61-year-old female member of the sect tested positive for the virus last week, but initially refused to be transferred to a hospital so as not to reveal the fact that she had attended Shincheonji gatherings.
A Daegu health official responsible for quarantine also revealed he is a Shincheonji member after being tested positive.
Critics say uncovering the identities of Shincheonji members will be difficult since the group conceals the names of politicians, public officials and other celebrities.
Amid growing public anger at the sect, the group said at the weekend that it will fully cooperate with government investigations.
On Tuesday, officials broke into the group’s headquarters in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, to discover a full list of members for quarantine measures.
The government said it has secured a list of 212,000 Shincheonji worshippers and will begin conducting coronavirus tests on those who have respiratory symptoms.
Over 800,000 people have signed an online petition since Saturday after it was filed on the website of the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae.
Authorities are looking into how the disease was first transmitted to the group. More than 9,000 Shincheonji worshippers have been put under quarantine.
The Seoul government has been scrambling to contain growing expressions of public anger.
As of Wednesday morning, over 400,000 South Koreans had signed an online petition calling for President Moon Jae-in to be impeached.
Petitioners say Moon failed to halt entry to visitors from all parts of China, only prohibiting the entry of foreigners from China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, is located.
Meanwhile, the US Forces Korea (USFK) reported on Tuesday that it had detected the first infection in one of its troops. The 23-year-old soldier is stationed at Camp Carroll, near Daegu, but has been quarantined at his home off base, according to the command. The development came a day after a widow of a retired US soldier living in Daegu contracted the virus.
“KCDC and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” the USFK said in a news release Feb. 25.
“USFK is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of Covid-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force,” it said.
More countries, including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore, have started to impose bans on South Korean travelers because of the virus outbreak.