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.


Ethiopia says suspects confessed to killing popular singer

Updated 10 July 2020

Ethiopia says suspects confessed to killing popular singer

  • Hachala Hundessa became a symbol of the Oromo struggle during years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power in 2018
  • Though Abiy is Ethiopia’s first Oromo head of state, Oromo nationalists accuse him of insufficiently championing their interests since taking office

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s attorney general said Friday that two men had confessed to killing a popular singer from the Oromo ethnic group as part of a plot to topple Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.
Hachala Hundessa became a symbol of the Oromo struggle during years of anti-government protests that swept Abiy to power in 2018.
His shooting death last week sparked days of protests and ethnic violence that killed 239 people, according to police figures.
“The assassination was intended to be a cover to take power from the incumbent by force,” attorney general Abebech Abbebe said in a statement Friday aired on state television, without providing details.
Though Abiy is Ethiopia’s first Oromo head of state, Oromo nationalists accuse him of insufficiently championing their interests since taking office, a complaint echoed by many protesters last week.
Abebech said that along with the two men who have allegedly confessed to the crime, the government has identified a third suspect who remains on the run.
One of the men in custody identified the masterminds of the alleged plot as members of a rebel group the government believes is affiliated with the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) political party, Abebech said.
The OLF, a former rebel movement, returned to Ethiopia from exile after Abiy took office and has repeatedly disavowed any links to armed insurgents.
The Internet remained shut off Friday for an 11th consecutive day, though Addis Ababa remains calm and Abiy’s office issued a statement saying the surrounding Oromia region had “returned to calm and citizens have resumed normal activities.”
In her statement, however, Abebech said unnamed agitators were calling for additional protests and road blockages in the coming days.
“There are those that have hidden themselves in nice places but are calling on Ethiopian youth to fight each other, close roads and to cease working as part of a rebellion call,” Abebech said.
“Above all we call on our people to disobey this rebellion call and to thwart it.”