India’s Congress faces existential crisis after defection

Jyotiraditya Scindia
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Updated 12 March 2020

India’s Congress faces existential crisis after defection

  • Senior party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia joins ruling BJP in fresh blow to opposition

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition party and its oldest political outfit, the Indian National Congress (INC), is in a political turmoil following the defection of Jyotiraditya Scindia, a senior party leader, who joined the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday.

“Today’s Congress Party ignores the reality, there is inertia and many people are not given a chance to take a leadership role. The situation is the same across the country, but in Madhya Pradesh, the dreams that we saw together have been shattered,” Scindia said on Wednesday immediately after joining the BJP.

The move raises fresh questions about the survival of the INC and its future role as the main anchor of the secular consolidation against the predominant Hindu right-wing party.

Scindia, a former central minister, a party general secretary and an important leader of the crucial state of Madhya Pradesh (MP), was engaged in a factional fight with the local leadership of the party in the state.

He has been unhappy since his claim for the chief minister’s post for MP was rejected by the party central leadership one-and-a-half years ago, with reports saying that his demand for a seat in the Upper House of parliament was also ignored by the party.

On Monday, he declared an open revolt against the Congress and, along with 17 party legislators, broke rank with the state leadership, bringing the Congress government to the brink
of collapse.

Many thought it was a bargaining tactic. However, on Tuesday he met the top BJP leaders and resigned from the Congress Party.

The revolt has dealt a big blow to the stability of the Congress-ruled MP state, which it captured from the BJP one-and-a-half years ago after being in opposition for 15 years.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “destabilizing the elected government in Madhya Pradesh.”

For the INC, the revolt is seen as a second major setback after the second defeat in the general elections in May last year.

Some party leaders have started questioning the leadership of interim president Sonia Gandhi, who was put in charge of the party after her son Rahul Gandhi refused to lead after the debacle in the parliamentary elections last year.

“Scindia’s departure is a big blow to the INC. He was a central pillar in the party and the party should have done more to convince him to stay,” young Congress leader Kuldeep Bishnoi tweeted on Wednesday.

He said: “India’s oldest party needs to empower young leaders who have the capacity to work hard and resonate with the masses.”

The crisis in the Congress comes at a time when there has been a clamor for a united secular front against the rising tide of Hindu right-wing forces.

Many see the Congress Party as the only alternative to the BJP, which has been largely blamed for the recent violence in Delhi that claimed the lives of more than 50 people, mostly Muslims.

“Scindia’s departure is not a setback but an opportunity for the Congress to consolidate itself further by sorting out its leadership issue,” Dr. Satish Mishra of New Delhi based think tank, the Observer Research Foundation, told Arab News.

Prof. Zoya Hasan of New Delhi-based Jawaharlal University agreed.

“Scindia’s defection to the BJP at this point is a big setback for the Congress because he’s a close friend of Rahul Gandhi and it exposes the inability of the Congress to promote the second line of leadership,” she said, adding that the timing was “most unfortunate.”

“The country needs a strong opposition to counter the politics of hate and division. Although nothing has been done to revive the Congress in the past six years, it is still the most important party with pan-India support and, therefore, should be at the front and center of opposition to the BJP,” Hasan told Arab News.

Political analyst and senior journalist Harish Khare reasons that “the Scindia treachery must be converted into a historic opportunity.”

“Just when a restive citizenry was summoning a new imagination to challenge new India’s communal theology, Scindia has given an opportunity to a beleaguered Modi regime to regain the political upper-hand,” Khare told Arab News.

“The Congress has to reinvent itself as an agency committed to a decent constitutional compact and an instrument for restoration of the stability and moral authority of the Indian state,” he said.

Philippines coronavirus testing to be stepped up soon: WHO

Updated 31 March 2020

Philippines coronavirus testing to be stepped up soon: WHO

  • The coronavirus death toll in the Philippines rose to 78 on Monday
  • WHO said it expects testing to substantially increasing in the coming days

MANILA: Coronavirus testing is expected to increase substantially in coming days in the Philippines, where the high number of deaths relative to confirmed cases reflects lower testing so far, a World Health Organization official said on Tuesday.
The coronavirus death toll in the Philippines rose to 78 on Monday — the second highest in Southeast Asia outside Indonesia — with 1,546 reported infections.
“With respect to the high proportion of deaths in the Philippines, that’s essentially because of the way Philippines has chosen to test,” WHO technical adviser Matthew Griffith told a news conference, referring to the focus on testing only the most severe cases until now.
“We expect the testing to increase substantially in the coming days.”