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

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

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

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.”


Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park

Updated 02 December 2020

Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park

Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park
  • In 2018, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the perimeter of Kahuzi-Biega National Park and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal
  • According to park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed vast acres of woodland — an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the habitat of endangered gorillas

BUKAVU, DR Congo: Three Pygmies and a soldier were killed in clashes near DR Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park, military sources and local officials said Wednesday, as calls grow for protection of the country’s indigenous peoples.
The national park, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Monday, is a haven for critically endangered gorillas but faces an emerging threat from a conflict between rangers and local Pygmies, who claim they were robbed of ancestral lands when the park was extended in the 1970s.
The central African country’s parliament is currently considering a law to guarantee the rights of Pygmies.
Clashes erupted on Monday in the nearby village of Kabamba in South Kivu province, military sources and the territory’s administrator Thadee Miderho said Wednesday.
In addition to the four killed, others were wounded, they said.
The Pygmies wanted to retrieve bags of charcoal seized by the military, according to Miderho.
In 2018, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the park’s perimeter and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal.
According to park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed vast acres of woodland — an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the gorillas’ habitat.
Their return led to open conflict between Pygmies and rangers in which people on both sides have been killed.
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park celebrated 50 years of existence on Monday, priding itself as “a sanctuary and refuge” of eastern lowland gorillas.
Meanwhile a civil society group in the territory of Kabare wrote an open letter to UNESCO asking for it to help “save” the Pygmies.
“Fifty years later, the existence of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park = 50 years of suffering of our Pygmies brothers and sisters,” the group wrote.
In the capital Kinshasa, the National Assembly passed a bill on November 26 for the “protection and promotion of the rights of the indigenous Pygmy peoples,” which will now be considered by the Senate.
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo, unlike other indigenous ethnic groups, the Pygmies have not always received special attention as an indigenous group,” parliament acknowledged in a memorandum.
The proposed law guarantees the recognition of the culture of the Pygmies, easy access to justice and social services, and “full access to the land.”