Indian political scion Rahul Gandhi resigns as Congress party leader

In this May 21, 2019, file photo, Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi, greets people during a function in New Delhi, India. Gandhi has resigned as president of India's opposition Congress party to take responsibility for its crushing defeat in recent elections. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)
Updated 04 July 2019

Indian political scion Rahul Gandhi resigns as Congress party leader

  • Gandhi’s family, starting with his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, has produced three prime ministers
  • After inheriting his power, Rahul Gandhi long distanced himself from political life, even after becoming a lawmaker

NEW DELHI: Rahul Gandhi resigned Wednesday as president of India’s opposition Congress party, long led by his politically powerful family, to take responsibility for its crushing defeat in recent elections.
Gandhi announced his resignation on Twitter, saying he was stepping down because accountability is “critical for the future growth of our party.” He said rebuilding the party requires hard decisions and “numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure.”
“It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility as president of the party,” Gandhi said in his resignation letter.
It was unclear whether the left-of-center secular party would accept his resignation.
Gandhi’s family, starting with his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, has produced three prime ministers. Two of them — his grandmother Indira Gandhi and father, Rajiv Gandhi — were assassinated in office.
Rahul Gandhi lost his own seat, long a Congress party bastion, in the recent elections, marking the end of an era for modern India’s most powerful political dynasty. However, he won a seat from another constituency.
He had been talking of quitting since the results of the elections were announced in May, but party officials urged him to stay. Dozens of party supporters joined a strike to pressure Gandhi not to resign.
In the elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won 303 out of 542 seats in the lower house of Parliament, well beyond the simple majority needed to form a government. The Congress party won 52 seats and the All India Trinamool Congress led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee won 22.
Gandhi said in his resignation letter that the BJP used state organizations to help it win the elections.
“We didn’t fight a political party in the 2019 election. Rather, we fought the entire machinery of the Indian state, every institution of which was marshalled against the opposition,” Gandhi said. “It is now crystal clear that our once cherished institutional neutrality no longer exists in India.”
He said the BJP is “systematically crushing the voice of the Indian people” and that it is his party’s duty “to defend these voices.”
“Our democracy has been fundamentally weakened. There is a real danger that from now on, elections will go from being a determinant of India’s future to a mere ritual,” he said. “This capture of power will result in unimaginable levels of violence and pain for India.”
Arti Jerath, a political commentator, said nothing would change if the Gandhi family remains “the power center of the Congress party.” She said Congress needs an election within the party “so that new leaders can come up.”
“That is the only way to get fresh blood and ideas. The Gandhi family has to let go. It can’t continue the system of patronage,” Jerath said.
Nilanjan Mukhopadyay, a biographer of Modi, said the way Congress leadership navigates the current crisis will largely determine the future of the party.
“If after all this melodrama, Rahul Gandhi continues either in person or through a proxy president to dominate, it is going to be more damaging for the Congress party than it is now,” he said.
After inheriting his power, Rahul Gandhi long distanced himself from political life, even after becoming a lawmaker. In Parliament he was largely a backbencher, leaving the party’s reins to his mother, Sonia Gandhi. In December 2017 he took over the party’s leadership from her after she suffered health problems.
The BJP’s victory was largely seen as a referendum on Modi’s Hindu nationalist politics that many say have bred intolerance toward Muslims and other religious minorities. Critics say the ruling party’s Hindu nationalism has aggravated religious tensions. However, Modi supporters say the tea seller’s son from Gujarat state has improved the nation’s standing.
Since Modi led the BJP to power in 2014, Hindu mobs have lynched dozens of Muslims and lower-caste dalits for allegedly consuming or slaughtering cows, which Hindus consider sacred.

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 47 min 34 sec ago

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

“Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

“So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”