India’s oldest party at the crossroads — faces existential crisis

Supporters of Karnataka Congress and Janatha Dal (Secular) coalition government participate in a demonstration staged by the parties coalition government against the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) and its alleged horse trading, in Bangalore on July 10, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 10 July 2019

India’s oldest party at the crossroads — faces existential crisis

  • Congress finding it difficult to hold on to party cadres and legislators

NEW DELHI: The opposition Congress party staged protests in different parts of the country on Wednesday over what it called an attempt by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to topple its coalition government in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. The party also staged a walkout in both houses of Parliament.

The party alleges that the BJP is trying to break party legislators in Karnataka by offering them huge sums of money. It blames the Hindu rightwing outfit for keeping eight of its lawmakers hostage in a hotel in Mumbai.

Ever since it lost its second general election in the past five years, the oldest political outfit in India has been in a state of disarray, with the Congress finding it difficult to hold on to its party cadres and legislators.

The crisis has deepened with the resignation of its president, Rahul Gandhi, who took responsibility for the party’s defeat in the elections.

Established in 1885, the Congress played a pivotal role in India’s struggle for independence. Gandhi’s family has been heading the party since 1947, except for a brief period in the 1990s.

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was Gandhi’s grandfather. Two years after Nehru’s death in 1964, his daughter Indira Gandhi became the premier and ruled the country almost unchallenged until 1984. Her son Rajiv Gandhi, father of Rahul Gandhi, then assumed power and led the country until 1989.

Rahul’s mother, Sonia Gandhi, assumed the mantle of the party in 1998 and remained party president until 2017. Rahul succeeded her.

In 2019, his younger sister Priyanka Gandhi also made an entry into the party by becoming one of its regional general secretaries.

The party now faces a situation where it has the challenge of electing a leader who does not belong to the dynasty.

Political analysts say that the crisis in the southern Indian state is more to do with the party’s state of affairs at the national level than the BJP’s attempt to break the state unit.

Top-rung leaders of the party are divided over the process of electing a new president.

On Tuesday, a senior party leader, Janardan Dwivedi, questioned the consultative mechanism of its highest decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), and its power to elect a new leader.

His questioning of the CWC’s power has intensified the battle between young and old within the Congress party.

The party is also in a confusion about the future role of Rahul Gandhi in the party. In his resignation letter, the 49-year-old leader talked about fighting the BJP with renewed strength in the time to come.

Some Congress leaders feel that this is the time for the party to regroup and re-energize itself for future challenges.

“I feel that Rahul Gandhi has taken a very courageous step by resigning from the post and he has set a great example for the young cadres of the party,” said Angellica Aribam, a young Congress leader.

“The party is not facing an existential crisis. The Congress has lived without the Gandhi dynasty in the past and it can do the same even now,” said Aribam, who started her career as a student leader.

She told Arab News: “The Gandhi family remains very much active in the party with Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi all very much busy with their political activism. Two days ago Rahul Gandhi addressed the new parliamentarians in Delhi.”

She said, however that “the party needs the change at every level of the organization. The leadership will emerge through consensus.”

“The nation needs the Congress and it is the only outfit that can challenge the rising rightwing forces and provide a counter to the BJP’s narrative. The people of the country will not allow the party to fritter away,” she said.

Some political analysts see “a big opportunity for the Congress party to reorganize itself anew.”

“Rahul Gandhi’s resignation has provided the Congress party with a historic opportunity for a dramatic reinvention as an institutionalized modern political party,” said Prof. Zoya Hasan of the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

“The Congress party will have to democratize the party’s structure and hold elections for all the important posts, starting from the post of the party president,” she said. “The Congress has faced many crises in its long history and it has survived those situations.”

She told Arab News that the situation this time was different. “In the past they were in power when they faced the conflict, now they are out of power. Besides, they face a powerful opponent in the BJP, which is very well entrenched and uses all the state institutions to expand its presence.”

“Rahul Gandhi will remain an important leader. He will set the political narrative of the party. He will clearly be engaging in mass politics. His resignation will enhance his prestige not only in the party but also outside,” Hasan said.

“Democracy needs an opposition and the Congress is the only party with an all-India presence. It is the only principal opposition party that has the potential to take on the BJP,” she said.


Man suspected of killing wife, three children in Australia fire

Updated 20 February 2020

Man suspected of killing wife, three children in Australia fire

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was ‘shocked, saddened and devastated’ by the tragedy
  • A passer-by who tried to intervene in the situation was also taken to hospital to be treated for facial burns

SYDNEY: An ex-rugby league player is suspected of murdering his three children and estranged wife in Australia by burning them alive inside their car, in what police described as one of the most horrific incidents they have encountered.

Officers said 31-year-old Hannah Clarke died in a Brisbane hospital on Wednesday just hours after her three children aged three, four and six were found dead in the car on a suburban street.

Her husband, Rowan Baxter, who also died, allegedly approached the vehicle and doused it with petrol before setting it alight, The Australian newspaper reported.

The paper said Clarke jumped from the burning car and rolled on the ground, saying “he’s poured petrol on me.”

Officials said she was rushed to hospital with severe burns following the “horrific” incident but later succumbed to her injuries.

Baxter, a 42-year-old former rugby league player for the New Zealand Warriors, was believed to be in the burning vehicle but got out and died on a footpath.

Queensland Police detective inspector Mark Thompson said Thursday that Baxter died as a result of burns and a self-inflicted wound.

“Information that’s to hand has led us to believe that the Baxter children and Hannah Clarke were killed and I don’t believe there’s any suspicious circumstances around the death of Rowan Baxter,” he said.

Clarke’s sister-in-law, Stacey Roberts, set up a fundraiser to pay for funeral costs and support Hannah’s parents, who she said had “exhausted themselves to try and help Hannah escape this monster.”

“All those who knew Hannah or had even just met her once would know how much of a beautiful soul she was. Her children (were) her life,” Roberts posted on Facebook.

The page has so far raised almost Aus$100,000 ($67,000).

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country was “shocked, saddened and devastated” by the tragedy, which has led to an outpouring of grief on social media.

“Hannah and her three children were so senselessly and maddeningly murdered in what has occurred in a terrible act of violence and it just grieves our hearts terribly today,” he said.

Natasha Stott Despoja, a former senator and chair of anti-violence group Our Watch, called for stronger action to address violence against women in Australia, which she described as a “national emergency.”

“I know people want change, people are angry & sad today,” she tweeted. “How long before we stop this slaughter in our suburbs?“

A passer-by who tried to intervene in the situation was also taken to hospital to be treated for facial burns, a Queensland Ambulance Service spokesperson said.

The emergency responders who attended the scene have been stood down from their duties and will receive support, he added.