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.

Italy extends lockdown until ‘at least’ April 12

Updated 2 min 6 sec ago

Italy extends lockdown until ‘at least’ April 12

  • Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said any easing of containment measures would be done incrementally to ensure Italy does not give up gains it has made
  • Health Minister Roberto Speranza later announced that ‘all containment measures would be extended at least until Easter’ on April 12

ROME: Italy on Monday extended an economically crippling lockdown until “at least” mid-April to stem coronavirus infections that have claimed a world-leading 11,591 lives.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said any easing of containment measures would be done incrementally to ensure Italy does not give up gains it has made against the extraordinary disease.
The near three-week shutdown “had been very tough economically,” Conte told Spain’s El Pais newspaper.
“It cannot last very long,” he said. “We can study ways (of lifting restrictions). But it will have to be done gradually.”
Health Minister Roberto Speranza later announced that “all containment measures would be extended at least until Easter” on April 12.
Business closures and a ban on public gatherings were to have expired on Friday.
Italy was the first Western nation to impose sweeping restrictions to stem a pandemic that has claimed more than 36,000 lives worldwide.
Its own toll grew by 812 on Monday and the number of infections reported by the civil protection service surpassed 100,000.
But fresh evidence also suggested that COVID-19 was spreading more slowly than when the first victim died in Italy on February 21.
The daily rate of new infections dropped to 4.1 percent — a fraction of the 62 percent level registered a month ago.
The number of people suffering from the illness at its epicenter in the northern Lombardy region also dropped for the first time.
And the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 across the nation of 60 million people hit a new high.
“We saw 1,590 people recover in the past 24 hours,” civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters.
“This is the highest number of recoveries recorded since the start of the pandemic.”
Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri said the latest data showed that Italy might see “a drop in the number of people infected within seven to 10 days.”
Italy’s ISS public health institute chief Silvio Brusaferro also felt the infection rate was approaching its peak.
“We are witnessing a flattening of the curve,” Brusaferro told the La Repubblica daily.
“There are no signs of a descent yet, but things are improving.”
Health officials said one of the most encouraging figures was a drop from 25,392 on Sunday to 25,006 on Monday in the number of people in Lombardy testing positive for COVID-19.
The figure had grown continuously for more than a month.
“The picture has improved a lot over the past four days,” Lombardy’s chief medical officer Giulio Gallera said.
The latest data was released nearly three weeks into a national lockdown that has emptied cities and paralyzed most business activity.
Store and restaurant closures were reinforced last week by a shutdown of “non-essential” factories.
Forecasts by several global banks and analysts point to Italian economic output shrinking by seven percent this year.