Battle lines drawn as Congress campaigns on Modi’s home turf

Indian Congress President Rahul Gandhi (C) waves to attendees next to All India Congress Committee general secretary for eastern Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (R) and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a rally at Adalaj, some 30 kms from Ahmedabad on March 12, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 12 March 2019

Battle lines drawn as Congress campaigns on Modi’s home turf

  • Sonia Gandhi blamed Modi for “playing politics over terror,” referring to the recent altercation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir

NEW DELHI: India’s Congress Party launched its campaign for the 2019 general election on Tuesday in Gujarat — the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) held a meeting in the city of Ahmedabad, before holding a public rally challenging the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Sonia Gandhi, the chair of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) blamed Modi for “playing politics over terror,” referring to the recent altercation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Her son Rahul Gandhi, the president of the Congress, said: “It is important to defeat the forces of fascism and divisiveness.”

The CWC was “resolved to defeat the ideology of the BJP, which spreads hatred and anger. No sacrifice is too great in this endeavor. This battle will be won,” he added.

The BJP responded by accusing the Gandhis of spreading discord, adding that their speeches were inspired by hatred and jealousy.

“They espouse the ideology of nationalism. The Congress is bereft and leans on the Left for its ideological spine,” Sudesh Verma, the BJP’s national spokesperson, said.

Modi served as Gujarat’s chief minister for nearly 12 years before becoming prime minister, and has never lost an election there.

In the last assembly elections in 2017, though, the BJP only managed to scrape through on the shoulder of his popularity. Despite its size and organization, it is not as powerful as it was in 2014.

Now, the Congress and other opposition parties are seeking to check the BJP in its strongholds. 

Several analysts have underlined that for all Modi’s “muscular” politics, large sections of the electorate are unhappy with the BJP for the perception that it has failed to follow through on election promises.

But the political journalist Urmilesh Singh believes it will not be straightforward.

“If there is one political party which is well organized, well-oiled and fully prepared to fight elections in India today is the BJP,” he told Arab News.

“The Congress looks like a pale shadow in terms of preparation, despite having the support of a large section of society. Whatever the Congress says, the BJP is playing its nationalistic card to the hilt.”


3,000-strong African force planned against Sahel extremism

Updated 28 February 2020

3,000-strong African force planned against Sahel extremism

  • The force would be a significant new player in the Sahel where fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group killed thousands of people last year
  • The decision by African leaders comes as the United States considers cutting its military presence in Africa while urging African solutions to African problems

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: African leaders have decided to work on deploying 3,000 troops to West Africa’s troubled Sahel region as extremist attacks surge, an African Union official said Thursday.
The force would be a significant new player in the sprawling, arid region south of the Sahara Desert where fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group killed thousands of people last year — at times working together in an unprecedented move.
The decision by African leaders comes as the United States considers cutting its military presence in Africa while urging African solutions to African problems. That has sparked pressure from worried security allies including France and regional countries as well as a rare bipartisan outcry among lawmakers in Washington.
Smail Chergui, the African Union commissioner for peace and security, relayed the new troop decision that was taken at the recent AU summit during a meeting Thursday with visiting European Union officials.
The AU continental body is expected to work with the West African regional counterterror force G5 Sahel as well as the West African regional body ECOWAS, which has formed peacekeeping units in the past, Chergui said.
ECOWAS in September announced what Chergui called a “very bold” plan to counter extremism in the region, including mobilizing up to $1 billion through 2024.
“As you see and recognize yourself, the threat is expanding and becoming more complex,” Chergui said. “Terrorists are now even bringing a new modus operandi from Afghanistan and Al-Shabab” in Somalia.
It was not immediately clear what the next steps would be in forming the AU force for the Sahel, which has become the most active region in Africa for extremist attacks.
The force would join France’s largest overseas military operation, the 5,100-strong Barkhane, and the 15,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali, one of the hardest-hit countries in the attacks along with Burkina Faso and Niger.