Gandhi brand no longer sells in In­dian pol­i­tics

Hits new low in vice-pres­i­den­tial elec­tion

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

In­dia’s Congress party and its con­trol­ling Nehru-Gandhi dy­nasty that has been syn­ony­mous with po­lit­i­cal power for most of the 70 years since in­de­pen­dence, hit a new low with this week­end’s vi­cepres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The Congress-backed can­di­date was crushed in Satur­day’s par­lia­men­tary bal­lot by the nom­i­nee of Prime Min­is­ter Narendra Modi and his rul­ing na­tion­al­ist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The vic­tory means the BJP oc­cupy the top three of­fices of state for the first time, fol­low­ing its vic­tory in last month’s pres­i­den­tial bal­lot. It height­ened a cri­sis for Congress and raised fresh ques­tions about the party’s top lead­er­ship-es­pe­cially 47year-old Rahul Gandhi, great grand­son of In­dia’s first prime min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru. Gandhi led the cam­paign in the dis­as­trous 2014 gen­eral elec­tion which saw Congress win just 44 seats-an his­toric low. The party went on to de­feat-after-de­feat in state elec­tions.

“The Congress faces two ex­is­ten­tial crises-lack of lead­er­ship and the ab­sence of an as­pi­ra­tional, co­her­ent vi­sion for the fu­ture,” Mi­lan Vaish­nav, South Asia di­rec­tor at Wash­ing­ton-based Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace think-tank, told AFP. “What is stun­ning is that the 2014 gen­eral elec­tion re­sult ex­posed both of these in­fir­mi­ties, yet the party has made lit­tle to no progress rem­e­dy­ing them. If cur­rent trends con­tinue, the Congress risks ter­mi­nal de­cline,” Vaish­nav added. While still short of an out­right ma­jor­ity, the BJP last week snatched Congress’ man­tle as the largest party in the up­per house, the Ra­jya Sabha, after al­most six decades. A fa­vor­able vi­cepres­i­dent could also bol­ster Modi’s leg­isla­tive agenda as the vice pres­i­dent dou­bles as chair­man of the Ra­jya Sabha.

Dy­nas­tic cross­roads

The cen­tre-left Congress has ruled In­dia for more than 50 of the past 70 years, most of them with Nehru and his de­scen­dants at the helm. Since Nehru, his daugh­ter Indira Gandhi and grand­son Ra­jiv Gandhi have been prime min­is­ter. But the so-called ‘nat­u­ral-born lead­ers’ have looked like po­lit­i­cal out­siders since the 2014 elec­toral drub­bing. Party num­ber two to his Ital­ian-born mother So­nia Gandhi, 70 — widow of the as­sas­si­nated Ra­jiv-Rahul has suf­fered a string of key lo­cal elec­tion de­feats in­clud­ing in the bell­wether state of Ut­tar Pradesh in March. “Today, un­like the past, the fam­ily needs the party more than the party needs the fam­ily,” R Ja­gan­nathan, a Mum­bai-based po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor and edi­to­rial di­rec­tor of Swara­jya, told AFP.

“I think that Gandhi name is past its sellby date. His mother at least had AN in­ter­est (in pol­i­tics), Rahul doesn’t seem in­ter­ested... he is un­suit­able for lead­er­ship,” Ja­gan­nathan added.

Rahul Gandhi made an un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to me­di­ate be­tween re­gional al­lies in a dis­pute that led to Bi­har state fall­ing to the BJP last month, and the loy­alty he com­mands within the party is open to doubt. Ja­gan­nathan sug­gested the once-dom­i­nant fam­ily should make way for “real grass­root lead­ers,” but Sadanand Dhume of the Wash­ing­ton-based Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, said a change in lead­er­ship would be prob­lem­atic.

“In the­ory it makes sense to sug­gest that Congress should out­grow its re­liance on the Nehru-Gandhi dy­nasty. In re­al­ity, the fam­ily is all that holds the party to­gether. Take it out and Congress col­lapses like a prover­bial house of cards,” Dhume said. Rahul’s younger sis­ter Priyanka, who many see as an al­ter­na­tive leader, is ham­pered by a con­tro­versy over her hus­band’s prop­erty deal­ings, and has so far re­fused to take a more prom­i­nent role. With the op­po­si­tion in dis­ar­ray, the BJP and its al­lies now rule 18 of In­dia’s 29 states, and look set for more gains in the up­per house.

“The Ra­jya Sabha is ef­fec­tively the only real po­lit­i­cal check on Modi’s power. Once the BJP gains con­trol, Modi will be free to pur­sue an ex­pan­sive leg­isla­tive agenda on a range of is­sues,” Dhume said. In the cur­rent op­po­si­tion vac­uum, even one-time Modi chal­lengers like Bi­har chief min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar now say Modi’s vic­tory in the 2019 na­tional elec­tion is a fore­gone con­clu­sion.—


NEW DELHI: In this file photo taken on Au­gust 5, 2017 shows ac­tivists and sup­port­ers of the In­dian Youth Congress (IYC) hold­ing pic­tures of its leader Rahul Gandhi as they shout slo­gans against Prime Min­is­ter Narendra Modi dur­ing a protest out­side the head­quar­ters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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