India’s main opposition party faces leadership crisis

Sonia Gandhi, 73, took over as the interim president of Congress last year after her son Rahul resigned. (AFP)
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Updated 24 August 2020

India’s main opposition party faces leadership crisis

  • Electoral defeats spark calls for change

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition party is in turmoil after its leader on Monday asked to be replaced and “relieved” of her duties.

Sonia Gandhi, 73, took over as the interim president of Congress last year after her son Rahul resigned from the top post over the party's shabby performance in the 2019 general elections.

“A year has lapsed now,” she said in a meeting of the party’s highest body. “In the interest of the party, I ask the Congress Working Committee (CWC) to begin deliberations to put in place the process of transition to relieve me from my duties.”

Senior party figures had earlier called for a complete reorganization of Congress, demanding a “full-time and effective leadership” that was both “visible” and “active” in the field.

They called for “elections to the CWC and the urgent establishment of an institutional leadership mechanism to collectively guide the party’s revival,” and asked for the revival of Congress as a “national imperative fundamental to the health of democracy.”

There was heated debate at the Monday meeting about leadership and organizational decay in the party, with Gandhi ultimately being authorized to make decisions and stay on until someone else was elected to the role. 

“The CWC authorises the Congress president to affect necessary organisational changes that she may deem appropriate to take on the challenges,” the party said after day-long deliberations.

Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala said there would be an election for the post of president at the party’s next session.

Congress, which was founded in 1885, has dominated India’s political landscape since the early 20th century. It played a major part in the fight for independence, ruling for decades after 1947.

The Gandhi family has also dominated the party. Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s first prime minister and, after his death in 1964, his daughter Indira led the party from 1968 until her death in 1984.

Her son Rajiv took over the party and ruled the country until 1989. After his death in 1991 the leadership went into the hands of non-Gandhi leaders until Sonia took over in 1998, with Congress being divided into several factions and groups. She remained party president until 2017, when she passed the baton to son Rahul.

Congress had fared well in previous elections, winning outright or forming a coalition, until the rise of the right-wing and nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Last year was the second time that Congress was thrashed by the BJP at the polls.

Rahul asked the party to find an outsider to lead, however a lack of consensus forced Congress to appoint his mother as interim president until an alternative was found.

“The Gandhi family is the asset and the liability for Congress,” Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies think tank, told Arab News. “The Gandhi family has provided the glue around which all the leaders are together. It is also a liability because the  family has not been able to provide the leadership which it requires.”

The two consecutive electoral defeats were the party’s worst showing. Out of 545 parliamentary seats up for grabs in 2014 the party got just 44. In 2019 it got 55.

Senior leaders want the change in leadership in order to revive the party’s fortunes and take on the BJP.

“If Sonia Gandhi quits the question is who will replace her,” Prof. Zoya Hasan, from Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Arab News. “There’s no consensus on her successor from outside the Gandhi family. But drift and failure to confront the leadership crisis has harmed the party immensely. Congress needs to sort itself out and elect a full-time president. There’s been a huge delay in this process and postponing it will further damage the party. This is hurting the party and the opposition because no serious opposition is viable without Congress.”

Congress, which not long ago ruled India unchallenged for decades, is now gasping for breath. It now rules in just four out of 29 states in India.

“Congress is the only party at the moment which can challenge the might of the BJP, and that is why it is important for the party to revive and provide strong leadership at the national level,” Kumar added.

Indonesian president ‘honored’ to have UAE street named after him

Updated 22 October 2020

Indonesian president ‘honored’ to have UAE street named after him

  • Abu Dhabi’s Al-Ma’arid Street renamed President Joko Widodo Street

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Tuesday said it was “an honor” for him and his country that a street in the UAE capital had been named after him.

Al-Ma’arid Street, one of Abu Dhabi’s key roads, was on Monday renamed President Joko Widodo Street during a ceremony that coincided with the first anniversary of the Indonesian leader’s inauguration for a second term in office.

Writing on social media, Widodo said: “It is a recognition and an honor, not only for me, but for Indonesia.” He also expressed hope that the two countries’ relations would be “stronger, mutually strengthening, and beneficial for the people of the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia.”

Indonesia’s ambassador to the UAE, Husin Bagis, told Arab News: “The initiative to rename the street after President Joko Widodo came from His Highness (Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan), who also presided over the street renaming ceremony on the spot.”

The envoy said that the street was near to the future location of the Indonesian Embassy compound, which was currently under construction.

According to UAE news agency WAM, the crown prince has also directed officials to build a mosque named after Widodo, in Abu Dhabi’s Diplomatic Area, in recognition of the Indonesian president’s close friendship with the UAE and his efforts to strengthen the relationship.

Indonesia-UAE relations have grown closer since Widodo’s visit to Abu Dhabi in January, during which he secured investment projects worth $22.9 billion in what has officially been described as the biggest trade deal in the country’s history. The visit was to reciprocate the crown prince’s trip to Indonesia in July 2019.

Recent cooperation agreements between the two countries have included plans for the construction of a mosque on a plot of land in Widodo’s hometown of Solo in Central Java.

The mosque will be a replica of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and serve as an Islamic center offering training for clerics. A groundbreaking ceremony is slated to take place in December.

Widodo is the latest Indonesian leader to be celebrated through an honorific street name in a foreign country. In Rabat, Morocco’s capital, Avenue Sukarno was named after Indonesia’s first president, while Mohammed Hatta Street in Haarlem, the Netherlands, recognizes the Southeast Asian country’s first vice president. Sukarno and Hatta are considered the fathers of Indonesia’s independence.

The name of the country’s third president, B. J. Habibie, appears on a bridge in Dili, the capital of East Timor, in honor of his decision to hold a referendum there which allowed East Timor to secede from Indonesia.