India’s Congress party unveils ‘wealth and welfare’ manifesto

United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, left, and Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi, right, release Congress party's manifesto for the upcoming general elections, in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (AP)
Updated 02 April 2019

India’s Congress party unveils ‘wealth and welfare’ manifesto

  • The manifesto promises gender justice and a 33 percent reservation for women in government jobs
  • The manifesto pledges to reduce the presence of army and paramilitary forces in the disputed territory

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition party on Tuesday unveiled its election manifesto, pledging minimum income support for 250 million people and special help for minorities and those in the disputed Kashmir region. 

The first phase of the country’s election begins April 11 and the results are due on May 23, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main opposition Congress bidding to take control of India’s lower house of Parliament.

“We would focus on wealth and welfare,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said at an event that was attended by former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Sonia Gandhi. 

He promised a minimum job guarantee of 150 days for people in rural areas under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act, an employment scheme launched by a prior Congress government that ensured 100 days of guaranteed work.

The manifesto promises gender justice and a 33 percent reservation for women in government jobs.

An appeal to farmers comes in the form of a separate budget to address their issues.

Congress also pledged to provide minimum income support of $1,060 per annum to 250 million poor people.

“The last five years have been disastrous for the people of India,” Gandhi told reporters after the manifesto’s release. “Youths have lost jobs. Farmers have lost hope. Traders have lost business. Micro, small and medium enterprises have lost their confidence. Women have lost a sense of security. Deprived communities have lost their traditional rights. Institutions have lost independence. In this time of deep crisis the Congress Party promises a clean break from the past five years.”

The party declared its support for pluralism and promised to protect religious minorities and ensure their full constitutional and physical safety, which had been “endangered” in the last five years.

“In the last five years, the BJP government has spread hate and divisiveness. Congress will work toward uniting India and bringing people together,” said Gandhi.

The party promised to protect Article 370 of India’s constitution which gives special status to Kashmir state, following demands from some groups to remove it.

It said talks with all stakeholders were the only way out to find a “respectable solution” to the problems in the state.

The manifesto pledges to reduce the presence of army and paramilitary forces in the disputed territory and also dilute the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives unlimited power to security forces in the valley. 

But the BJP slammed the manifesto as “dangerous and un-implementable, and an agenda for the balkanization of India.”

Cabinet minister Arun Jaitley warned that such agendas served to break up the nation. “Being involved in terror will no longer be a crime,” he said. “The party which says this does not deserve a single vote. If all the Congress plans are implemented, there will be rule of insurgents and terrorists. If Congress tries to establish this, it will not be acceptable.”

However, political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said it was a brave manifesto and that Congress was no longer shy of stating its ideological position.

“By promising protection to minorities and political initiatives in Kashmir Congress is boldly countering the hyper nationalism of the BJP,” he told Arab News.


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.