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The loneliness of the Gandhis

By Aroon Purie

Looking at the train wreck of India’s Grand Old Party after the Lok Sabha election nearly two years ago, we asked rhetorically, ‘Can the Congress Rise from the Ashes?’ More recently, in August 2020, we tried to determine whether it was time for the Gandhi family to step down. 

The question acquires renewed urgency as India’s largest opposition party continues to go down in a death spiral. The INC is now in power on its own in just three states — Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan — its smallest national footprint in over seven decades. 

The Congress was absent in the nationwide farmers’ protests. In Gujarat’s recent local body polls, it was swamped by the ruling BJP and conceded ground to the Aam Aadmi Party. The party is the principal opposition in all the five states going to polls next month, but, strangely, isn’t tipped to benefit from the anti-incumbency in any of them. 

In West Bengal, it has teamed up with the CPI (M) for a tri-cornered contest against the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition BJP. In Kerala, where it is battling the formidable Pinarayi Vijayan-led ruling CPI (M), it is undermined by anaemic state leadership. In Assam, a state it once ruled for 15 years, the party has an uphill task against the ruling BJP. In Tamil Nadu, it is the junior partner in the DMK’s grab for power. The party, it would seem, has never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity.

To compound its woes, seven Congress leaders, including two former CMs — Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Ghulam Nabi Azad — and former ministers like Raj Babbar, Manish Tewari and Anand Sharma, held a rally in Jammu last week, declaring the party was weakening and they had come together to strengthen it. These leaders are part of a group of 23 Congressmen, the so-called G23, who had sent Sonia Gandhi a letter on August 15 last year asking for organisational elections and a more ‘active and available leadership’.

There is a strange role reversal here. The Congress seems beset by a ruling party-like complacency even as the ruling BJP and the tenacious Modi-Amit Shah duo exhibit an opposition party’s untiring aggression. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cleverly appropriated all their planks, presenting himself as a great reformer and pro-poor leader, while pushing the Congress to prove its Hindu credentials. It is hard to tell what the Congress actually stands for today other than being a punching bag for the ruling party. 

Rahul Gandhi was recently seen trying to cultivate a man of the masses image by diving into the sea and joining students in push-up contests. Priyanka Gandhi hit the ground running in Assam with photo-ops of her picking tea, trying to make a dent on her party’s behalf. But it could be a case of too little, too late. The party is in disarray. It is bereft of cadre and leaders on the ground. Worse, Brand Gandhi, the glue that once held the party together, has lost its stickiness and its currency in the electoral marketplace. 

Instead of revitalising the party, however, the Gandhi trio seems to be presiding over an ever-widening gulf. Two of the party’s three chief ministers — Captain Amarinder Singh and Ashok Gehlot — are now independent satraps who have subtly signaled that they do not owe their political existence to the Gandhis.

For a democracy to function in a healthy manner, it needs a vibrant Opposition. Ironically, for all its faults, the Congress is our only other national party, even if it is a pale shadow of itself. It is time for Congressmen to stand up and reclaim their incredible legacy. It can’t be held hostage to one family.

(The op-ed appeared in DailyO)

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Congress humiliated by BJP in Rajasthan local polls

Jaipur: In a major shocker to Rajasthan’s ruling Congress, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in Rajasthan swept 1,911 seats in the recently held panchayat samiti elections while it was limited to 1,781 seats.

The Independents gained 425 seats, the Bahujan Samaj Party got 3 seats while the CPI-M captured 16 seats in the elections while the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party got 57 seats, according to the State Election Commission website.

The results for 4,239 of the 4,371 seats were announced, with counting was still underway in the remaining.

The BJP’s winning streak continued in Panchayat Samiti elections where they have won the Zila Parishad elections in 353 seats while Congress was limited to 252.

The CPI-M garnered two seats, the Independents 18 and RLP 10 seats.

“This victory is the people’s stamp on BJP’s rural policies. It reflects PM Narendra Modi’s developed ideology for farmers and this victory also reflects the hard efforts taken by BJP workers,” BJP state president Satish Poonia said.

The Panchayat and Zila Parishad polls victories come at a time when Modi’s polices were being protested against in Rajasthan by the Congress government who were supporting the bandh call on Tuesday. When they were pelting stones on BJP office as a part of Bharat Bandh, people voted against their two years of misrule which was marred by lawlessness, Poonia alleged.

Also there was no implementation of farm loan waiver as promised by Congress leaders during assembly elections, the school fee issue, electricity bill issue were further left unresolved, he added.

“The outspoken Rajasthan PCC President Govind Singh Dotasara could not make Congress win in his own constituency, also Health Minister Raghu Sharma and former PCC chief Sachin Pilot could not win in his own home turf, it seems that Congress is losing its hold after two years in power,” he said.

State Election Commission conducted these elections in 21 districts — Ajmer, Banswara, Barmer, Bhilwara, Bikaner, Bundi, Chittaurgarh, Churu, Dungarpur, Hanumangarh, Jaisalmer, Jalore, Jhalawad, Jhunjhunu, Nagaur, Pali, Pratapgarh, Rajsamand, Sikar, Tonk and Udaipur.

The polls were held in four phases including November 23, 29, December 1, and 5.

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Dr. Ajay Lodha: Loved by the community, cherished by his fraternity

New York:  Dr Ajay Lodha, an eminent doctor and community leader associated with many leading organizations, has succumbed to Covid-19 after fighting various complications for over 8 months. The 57-year-old breathed  his last on November 21 in Cleveland, Ohio. His cremation, attended by immediate family, close relatives and limited numbers of his associates, was held on November 24 on Long Island.

The condolences messages poured in from all over. Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot called it a huge loss to the Rajasthani Pravasi Community. AAPI (American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin) that Dr Lodha led in 2016, has mourned the loss of one of their own.
Dr Lodha was a powerhouse who took the organizations he led including AAPI-QLI (the largest AAPI chapter), RAJMAAI (Rajasthan Medical Alumni Association) and RANA (Rajasthan Association of North America) to great heights. But he is equally remembered as a doctor with a healing touch and as a caring, compassionate person with a penchant for serving the South Asian community.

An internist by specialization with  a successful practice in Queens, NY, Dr. Lodha had experience in leading almost all areas of medicine. Since 1995, he was a partner in two Nursing Homes on Long Island. He had extensive background in overseeing quality assurance and quality improvement. He was credited as the founder of the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) and Independent Physicians Association (APA). He was a former Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President of Caritas Health Care System representing St. John’s Hospital and Mary Immaculate Hospital in New York.

He received many awards and accolades during his distinguished career. For his stellar service to the community and the country, Dr Lodha was bestowed the Ellis Island Award of Honor in 2016. He was a recipient of Lawrence J. Scherr Award of Excellence for being an Outstanding Physi­cian. He has also been honored for Out­standing Contributions to Research & Hypertension Department at the Flushing Hospital, NY. In 2008, he was bestowed with the Nargis Dutt Memorial Foundation Physician of the Year Award.

Dr Lodha was appointed a member of the Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos’s MWBE Advisory Council in 2015. He was also a gracious member of the Advisory Board of The South Asian Times for many years.

Now, AAPI has instituted the Lodha Distinguished Service Award through “GOFUNDME” to help make an impact and to educate members of the Medical Profession on current activities and new products in the medical field.

Born in Rajasthan, he was a graduate of RNT Medical College, Udaipur, Rajasthan. After coming to the US, Dr. Lodha completed his Residency at the Flushing Hospital, NY.

Dr. Lodha is survived by his  physician wife Dr. Smita Lodha, son Amit and  daughter-in-law Priyanka and daughter Sweta and his parents Smt. Vallabh and Shri SS Lodha.

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Congress walks a tightrope in Rajasthan

New Delhi: With the political crisis finally resolved in Rajasthan and the Congress constituting a three-member committee to deal with the issues in the state unit, the party has acted by replacing the general secretary in-charge of the state. However, challenges still lie ahead with MLAs from the Sachin Pilot camp now demanding a bigger role in the government.

The party has assigned Ahmed Patel, K.C. Venugopal and Ajay Maken to look into the affairs of the state unit. The committee will be meeting all the stakeholders soon to deliberate on the issues and sources said that Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is set to meet party interim chief Sonia Gandhi.

“We would not like to comment on the issue and BJP has made a mockery of the democratic process and has got a befitting reply” said Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera, when asked for a response.

The ministers in the Pilot camp who rebelled were sacked by the Chief Minister including then Deputy Chief Minister Pilot himself, but later after the recent truce, the party had to find a way to accommodate Pilot’s loyalists, said sources.

Sonia Gandhi replaced state party in-charge Avinash Pande with Maken but the party tried to play it down.

“Organizational change happens in the party and Avinash Pande has done a good job in Rajasthan affairs,” said party spokesperson Supriya Shrinate.

The Rajasthan government has vacancies so MLAs from both camps are expecting a place in the Cabinet.

Prior to the rebellion, Pilot, Ramesh Meena and Vishvendra Singh were ministers but in the new situation, the Pilot camp is expecting a bigger share in the Gehlot government and plum portfolios. Former Deputy Chief Minister Pilot is expected to meet the committee members and explain his side of the story.

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Pt Jasraj death in New Jersey, condoled by PM Modi

New York: Indian classical vocalist Padma Vibhushan Pandit Jasraj, breathed his last on Monday in New Jersey at the age of  90.

He  was in his school, named  Pandit Jasraj Institute for Music, Research, Artistry and Appreciation, in Colonia, NJ and had even taken classes Sunday evening along with his disciple Padma Shri Tripti Mukherjee, The South Asian Times learnt. The cause of death is believed to be cardiac arrest.
His body will be taken to India for the last rites on Tuesday.

Viewing allowed at 4 pm today (Aug 17) limited to 40 persons, at Asian Indian Funeral Service – The Hindu Funeral Home in Highland Park, NJ.
With a career spanning over 80 years, Pt Jasraj  was a recipient of various prestigious awards and honors including Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan from the Indian Government.

He belonged to the Mewati Gharana and was also known as Sangeet Martand. His demise has left not only the music industry, but the entire nation in deep shock.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled his demise in a tweet: “The unfortunate demise of Pandit Jasraj Ji leaves a deep void in the Indian cultural sphere. Not only were his renditions outstanding, he also made a mark as an exceptional mentor to several other vocalists. Condolences to his family and admirers worldwide. Om Shanti.”

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot tweeted: “My heartfelt condolences at the passing away of legendary Indian classical vocalist Padma Vibhushan #PanditJasraj Ji. His demise is a huge loss to the world of Indian classical music. My thoughts & prayers are with his family, admirers & students. May his soul rest in peace.”

Jasraj has tutored several students who have gone on to perform as classical musicians including Tripti MukherjeeAnuradha PaudwalSadhana Sargam,  Ramesh NarayanSanjeev Abhyankar, violinist Kala Ramnath, and flautist Shashank Subramanyam.

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BJP to move no-confidence motion against Ashok Gehlot govt

Jaipur: In a major twist to the ongoing political crisis in Rajasthan, which looked like coming to an end with rebel Congress leader Sachin Pilot returning to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s camp, BJPs Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria said on Thursday that his party will move a no-confidence motion against the state government in the special Assembly session starting Friday.

The BJP convened a legislative party meeting on Thursday, which was attended by Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, national General Secretary Muralidhar Rao, state BJP President Satish Poonia, national Vice Presidents Avinash Rai Khanna and Vasundhara Raje, national Joint General Secretary (organisation) V. Satish, Gulab Chand Kataria and Deputy Leader of Opposition Rajendra Singh Rathore, among others.

Former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje also made a scathing attack on the Congress, saying the party has been ignoring the people and their problems ever since coming to power in the state over one-and-a-half years ago.

“It changed the names of our schemes; now we want to take the benefits of the Central schemes to the people,” she said.

She has all through maintained a stoic silence on the issue, except making a few tweets, besides recently meeting BJP national President J.P. Nadda and Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Delhi.

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BJP trying MP story in Rajasthan, claims CM

Jaipur: Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has accused BJP of indulging in horse trading in Rajasthan to destabilize the government here and said that BJP wants to repeat the Madhya Pradesh story in Rajasthan too.

“One of our MLAs was offered Rs 25 crore, 10 crore in advance and 15 crore later as horse trading, but he informed us on time. We have been tipped that a huge cash amount has been transferred from Delhi to Jaipur recently which has been informed to us by investigative agencies,” Rajasthan CM said after coming out of Shiv-Vilas Resort where 90 MLAs, both Congress and independents, were camping since evening.

Initially, these 90 MLAs were shifted to this resort situated at Delhi road fearing poaching, but late in the night these MLAs were asked to go back home.

In between, they had an elaborate meeting in presence of veteran leader Randeep Surjewala.

CM Gehlot said the party workers and independents shall meet on Thursday again as Congress candidate for Rajya Sabha, KC Venugopal shall also be coming to Jaipur. Also Rajasthan Congress in-charge Avinash Pandey will also be present during the meeting.

CM further said that I am proud to be the chief minister of state where our MLAs can not be bought.

He further accused the Narendra Modi government and said that a concocted plan was made to postpone Rajya Sabha elections earlier.

“Modi government pressurized Election Commission to postpone the election as MLAs horse trading had not been done in Rajasthan and Gujarat by then.”

Corona infection was there earlier too and it is still there, he commented.

After giving this statement, Gehlot also left from Shiv-Vilas Resort.

Earlier, political activities were at its peak on Wednesday. In the evening, CM called all MLAs to CMR for a meeting, who were later shifted to the resort.

Meanwhile, the Congress whip Mahesh Joshi lodged an official complaint with Director General of police, ACB demanding a strict action against BJP workers for trying to lure away the Independent MLAs with money power.

Joshi, in his letter addressed to the DG ACB, said, “On the lines of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, there has been an information coming via our reliable sources about efforts being made by the BJP to destabilize the government in Rajasthan by luring Congress as well as Independent MLAs who are supporting our government.”

Meanwhile, BJP state president Satish Poonia told IANS, “This is just propaganda made by Congress workers. I openly challenge them to come out with proof confirming their allegation.”

It needs to be mentioned here that Rajya Sabha elections are being scheduled on June 19 for 24 seats out of which three seats are in Rajasthan and MP and four are in Gujarat amongst others.

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