India’s Rahul Gandhi urged to make ‘drastic changes’ after election loss

Rahul Gandhi speaks with his mother during Congress Working Committee meeting in New Delhi on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 25 May 2019
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India’s Rahul Gandhi urged to make ‘drastic changes’ after election loss

  • Congress Party leader’s offer to resign is rejected after the election victory of PM Narendra Modi's BJP party
  • For the second time, the nationalist BJP thumped what was once India's dominant political party

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition on Saturday urged its leader to make “drastic changes” following the party’s heavy and humiliating defeat in the recent general election.

It is the second consecutive time that Rahul Gandhi’s Indian National Congress has been thumped by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the polls. Official data from the Election Commission showed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP increased its majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, from 282 seats to 303. Congress, on the other hand, nudged up its presence by a mere eight seats.

The loss also means that Congress has failed for the second time in a row to secure the minimum number of seats needed to be leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. 

Gandhi offered to resign in the wake of the routing. But his offer was rejected by the party’s working committee, which urged him to make “drastic changes” to revitalize the 134-year-old organization.

“We need Rahul Gandhi to guide us in these challenging times," Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala told reporters after the committee meeting. “The party will do a serious introspection about its defeat and it has authorized Rahul Gandhi to make drastic and constructive changes at all levels of the party’s organization. Congress is always committed to combat divisive and communal forces and stand up to the challenges of the time.”

The party has dominated India’s political landscape since the early 20th century and played a major part in the fight for independence, ruling for decades after 1947. The Gandhi family has also dominated the party. Congress has fared well in previous elections, winning outright or forming a coalition, until the rise of the right-wing and nationalist BJP juggernaut.

Prof. Mahesh Rangarajan, from Ashoka University, said the party was in serious crisis whether it was in terms of numbers, alliances or ideas.  “They need to go for serious introspection,” he told Arab News. “The way the BJP redefined itself in the 1980s, can Congress do that? There is a serious crisis and they need to admit it and try new responses to this crisis. 

“The BJP had two seats between 1984 to 1989 and was able to redefine the political debate. Congress is unable to redefine the contours of the political debate and enthuse adequate energy in the party. The irony is that Rahul Gandhi is the youngest leader among all the national parties, but it appears that the leadership has not been able to connect with any major section of voters, particularly the young who are large in number.”

Congress was able to add 10 million votes to its tally from the 2014 election. But this number fell far short of the votes hoovered up by the BJP, which got a bump of 50 million from the previous poll. 

Prof. Zoya Hasan, from Jawaharlal University, said the party’s “spectacular” defeat had more consequences than the one five years ago. 

“The party’s decline is not irreversible,” she told Arab News. “But in the long road ahead, it has to figure out what it actually stands for, and what it will take to stand up to Modi’s BJP.”

Modi’s stunning victory was hailed by India’s A-list, including cricketer Virat Kohli and actor Salman Khan.

On May 23, when the votes were counted, Rahul tweeted that he “accepted the verdict of the people of India” and congratulated the prime minister. He lost his own parliamentary seat, in a constituency long-held by his famous family.

Young activist and Congress member Angellica Aribam was undeterred by the dismal performance of the party and its leader.

“I cannot and do not foresee a Congress without Rahul Gandhi. What needs to change, though, is the organizational machinery,” she tweeted on Saturday.

She said the party needed to “recapture” the imagination of young India.

“In the history of India, whenever Congress was written off, it has re-emerged with new vigor,” she told Arab News. “These are testing times for us but we also know that we will rise again. The BJP champions pseudo-nationalism but Congress believes in the constitution, which doesn’t discriminate against anyone on the basis of caste, religion or gender. We will continue to remain an inclusive party. What we need to redefine is our organizational machinery not our core beliefs.”


UK govt insists suspension of Parliament was not illegal

Updated 4 min 38 sec ago

UK govt insists suspension of Parliament was not illegal

  • Government says a lower court was right to rule that Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was a matter of “high policy” and politics, not law
  • Opponents argue that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament

LONDON: The British government was back at the country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, arguing that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament just weeks before the country is set to leave the European Union was neither improper nor illegal.
It’s the second day of a historic three-day hearing that pits the powers of Britain’s legislature against those of its executive as the country’s scheduled Brexit date of Oct. 31 looms over its political landscape and its economy.
Government lawyer James Eadie argued that a lower court was right to rule that Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was a matter of “high policy” and politics, not law. Eadie called the decision to shut down Parliament “inherently and fundamentally political in nature.”
He said if the court intervened it would violate the “fundamental constitutional principle” of the separation of powers between courts and the government.
“This is, we submit, the territory of political judgment, not legal standards,” Eadie said.
The government’s opponents argue that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the 28-nation bloc for the “improper purpose” of dodging lawmakers’ scrutiny of his Brexit plans. They also accuse Johnson of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.
Johnson sent lawmakers home on Sept. 9 until Oct. 14, which is barely two weeks before Britain’s Oct. 31 departure from the EU. He claims the shutdown was a routine measure to enable his Conservative government to launch a fresh legislative agenda and was not related to Brexit.
Eadie rejected claims that the prime minister was trying to prevent lawmakers from blocking his Brexit plans.
He said “Parliament has had, and has taken, the opportunity to legislate” against the government, and would have more time between Oct. 14 and Brexit day. He said even if Parliament didn’t come back until Oct. 31, “there is time” for it to act on Brexit.
The prime minister says Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal. But many economists and UK lawmakers believe a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating and socially destabilizing. Members of Parliament have put obstacles in Johnson’s way, including a law compelling the government to seek a delay to Brexit if it can’t get a divorce deal with the EU.
Parliament’s suspension spared Johnson further meddling by the House of Commons but sparked legal challenges, to which lower courts gave contradictory rulings. England’s High Court said the move was a political rather than legal matter but Scottish court judges ruled Johnson acted illegally “to avoid democratic scrutiny.”
The Supreme Court is being asked to decide who was right. The justices will give their judgment sometime after the hearing ends on Thursday.
A ruling against the government by the 11 Supreme Court judges could force Johnson to recall Parliament.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, meanwhile, said Wednesday that the risk of Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal remained “very real” because Britain had not produced workable alternatives to the deal agreed upon with the EU by ex-British Prime Minister Theresa May. That deal was repeatedly rejected by Britain’s Parliament, prompting May to resign and bringing Johnson to power in July.
“I asked the British prime minister to specify the alternative arrangements that he could envisage,” Juncker told the European Parliament. “As long as such proposals are not made, I cannot tell you — while looking you straight in the eye — that progress is being made.”
Juncker, who met with Johnson on Monday, told members of the EU legislature in Strasbourg, France, that a no-deal Brexit “might be the choice of the UK, but it will never be ours.”
The EU parliament on Wednesday adopted a non-binding resolution supporting another extension to the Brexit deadline if Britain requests it.
Any further delay to Britain’s exit — which has already been postponed twice — needs the approval of the 27 other EU nations.
Johnson has said he won’t delay Brexit under any circumstances — but also says he will respect the law, which orders the government to seek an extension if there is no deal by Oct. 19. He has not explained how that would be done.