Rahul Gandhi files nomination papers from south India

Campaign shirts for sale inside a shop at a market ahead of India’s general election in Kolkata. (Reuters)
Updated 04 April 2019

Rahul Gandhi files nomination papers from south India

  • Rahul Gandhi is the fourth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for much of its history
  • Rahul Gandhi said his candidacy emphasized the unity of India

NEW DELHI: With the election campaign in full swing in India, the opposition Congress party’s president Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination papers from the Wayanad constituency of the southern Indian state of Kerala on Thursday.

This is for the first time in his 15-year political career that Gandhi has chosen to contest from a seat in south India besides running from his traditional stronghold in Amethi in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

“I want to send a message that India is one,” said Gandhi.

“The way Narendra Modi is working there has been a feeling among people across India that there was an attack on the culture, history, language of south India, and by coming here I want to give a message that I stand for the unity of India,” the Congress president to the media after filing his nomination.

Wayanad falls on the junction of three important South Indian states — Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala — and the victory in these states, where Congress has strong presence, is crucial for the party’s political prospects in New Delhi.

Political analysts say that since the grand old party is weak in some of the crucial states in North India, it wants to consolidate its presence in most of the 134 parliamentary constituencies in the the five South Indian states.

However, Gandhi’s foray into Wayanad has drawn sharp reaction from both political foes and friends.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main political rival of the Congress party, says that Gandhi has escaped to the south from Amethi fearing his loss and “it is an insult to Amethi.”

“This is a big sign that a person who has enjoyed power piggybacking on Amethi for 15 years has left Amethi and is filing his nomination today from some other place. Amethi will never forget the insult and betrayal,” said Smriti Irani, a senior cabinet minister in the BJP ministry in Delhi.

Parties on the left, who are Congress’ political partners, also criticized Gandhi’s decision to choose Wayanad as a second constituency.

“It goes against Congress’ national commitment to fight the BJP,” says Left leader Prakash Karat.

He said that Kerala is under Left Democratic Front (LDF) government and the BJP is not a force to be reckoned with in the state, so by choosing Wayanad “the Congress is targeting the Left.”

Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh, has been Gandhi’s traditional pocket borough with the Congress president representing the seat since 2004. Before that his father, the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, also represented the seat. This is the first time Gandhi is fighting from two constituencies.

Bangalore based political analyst Aarthi Ramachandran said that it’s politically “bad move” to choose a second constituency.

“What the move does is to build in a layer of separation between Rahul and the politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh,” says Ramachandran, who has also written a biography of Rahul Gandhi, called Decoding Rahul Gandhi.

In the meanwhile, the BJP is also doing its best to capture the imagination of the people.

The launch of NaMo TV (Narendra Modi TV) a few days ago has taken the electoral battle to a new level. It exclusively features Modi’s speeches and the BJP’s achievements and propaganda.

The sudden appearance of the NaMo TV on the screen across India has taken the BJP political rivals by surprise.

They have complained to the Election Commission of India (ECI) for violating the electoral code of conduct. The ECI has sought an explanation from the BJP. The BJP, however, defends it saying it’s run by some followers of the party.

The party has also launched merchandise bearing the name of Prime Minister Modi.

Special mobile vans have been set up to sell Modi jackets, keychains, coffee mugs, wristbands, notebooks and other items.

“Modi is not a name but a big brand in India,” says Nirala, a BJP functionary.

“People want to have the merchandise in his name. The party van has been specially created to capture the imagination of the people, especially younger generation.”

Political analyst Pawan Pratay, who is based in the eastern Indian city of Patna, said that “the BJP is good at marketing itself and it does not want to leave any stone unturned to win the election.”

“But the problem is that in 2014 Modi was an untested brand and his appeal was wide. This time there are people who would not be swayed away by his appeal as happened last time,” he said.

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.