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Congress needs crisis management strategy and team ASAP

By Asad Mirza

The 3Cs: Covid, China and Climate Change dominated the 47th annual G-7 Summit in Cornwall, UK. But overall the leaders were not able to present a united stand on any major issue.

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted the summit to showcase his brand of ‘Global Britain’, after Brexit. But there were terse exchanges between the French, EU and British leaders and officials on the issue. In effect, the summit turned out to be more Biden focused and expectations were raised high on some real agreement taking place on the 3C’s before the summit, though that was not the result ultimately.

Broadly, Biden sought to set a new tone after the unrestrained Trump years. Most G-7 leaders seemed relieved to have a return to a more predictable and traditional US administration. France’s Emmanuel Macron welcomed Biden back to the “club.” But the final Communique showed that even Biden’s expectations to ensure a consensus on many of his promises fell short.

On the issue of Covid-19, the leaders of the seven most affluent western nations seemed united, but there was a difference of opinion on the way forward. Earlier, they had shown commitment to donate 1 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses over the next year to poorer countries. But in reality the bloc fell short of its own goal — 613 million new doses pledged, instead of a billion.

Even so, the vaccine effort gave Biden some help with his China push. Biden has criticised China for a transactional brand of vaccine diplomacy, where the shots are being doled out for geopolitical advantage. Biden called on democracies to counter China and Russia by donating vaccines equally and based on need, without seeking favours in return.

On the second day of the summit, US unveiled plans to counter China through infrastructure funding for poorer nations. Promising to “collectively catalyse” hundreds of billions of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries, the G7 leaders said they would offer a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnership.

G-7s “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project was aimed directly at competing with China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Infrastructure (BRI) initiative.

However, several leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pushed back over worries about turning the G-7 into an anti-China group, suggesting any infrastructure programme should be framed as a more positive, pro-environment effort.

French President Emmanuel Macron also pushed back publicly, saying that the “G-7 is not a group that is hostile to China.” Macron was one leader who sought the middle ground.

China hit back at these statements dismissively saying that the days when “global decisions” were dictated by a “small group of countries are long gone”.

The final version of the communique skirted B3W, instead creating a task force to study how to spur infrastructure development abroad. It made no mention of BRI, though Biden renewed his call at a press conference, and said that, “I proposed that we have a democratic alternative to the Belt and Road initiative, to build back better.”

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced last month that due to surging Covid cases in India, he’d not travel to the UK, he addressed the summit virtually. He conveyed India’s commitment to “collective” solution to global health challenges, and called for “one earth, one health” approach, which aims for unity and solidarity among the states of the world to deal with the pandemic. He also emphasised the need to keep raw materials for vaccines easily accessible.

The summit’s Communique, which was issued several hours after the end of the summit, promises many things but falls short of what was expected to be achieved before the summit.

(The Op-Ed appeared in IANS)

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Yogi Adityanath in Delhi to meet Modi, Shah amid speculations

New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath reached Delhi for a two-day visit to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The meeting comes in the backdrop of speculation that the BJP central leadership has concerns over the UP government‘s handling of the Covid-19 crisis.

There are also reports of friction within the state unit which escalated to the Centre. BJP general secretary organisation BL Santhosh was in Uttar Pradesh earlier this month to meet party leaders and ministers to hear their concerns as the state prepares for the 2022 assembly elections.

The central leadership has, however, ruled out any change in state leadership, throwing their weight behind the Yogi Adityanath administration. The central leadership had also ruled out any change in the organisational structure of the party and said any change to the council of ministers would be carried out following consultation with the chief minister.

Following his UP visit, Santhosh had praised the UP government’s efforts during the pandemic. In two tweets, he said the UP administration, within a period of five weeks, reduced the daily case count by 93%. He also praised the decision to vaccinate parents of children below 12 years of age, calling it a wise move considering speculation that if the pandemic’s third wave hits it may affect children more.

Santhosh had taken feedback from the state ministers and MLAs, which had fuelled speculation about possible changes in the party’s Uttar Pradesh set up.

Media reports said that based on the feedback collected by the central leadership, it has been decided to go for a reshuffle in the Uttar Pradesh government as well as in the party’s state unit.

The sources also said that the role of former Union minister Jitin Prasada, who jumped ship from the Congress to the BJP, will also be discussed during Adityanath’s meetings with the central BJP leadership.

A well-known Brahmin face in Uttar Pradesh, Prasada’s father Jitendra Prasad was a prominent Brahmin leader in Uttar Pradesh.

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Is Jitin Prasada joining BJP in realistic politics?

New Delhi: Jitin Prasada, who joined the BJP recently, was set to join the saffron party in 2019 ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and had even finalized his talks through a BJP MP at that time, but a last-minute ride to the airport with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra changed the equation and he contested from Dharaura constituency only to be defeated by the BJP.

 

Prasada blamed two minority candidates contesting from Kheri and Sitapur for the polarization in his constituency but he was hoping to be made the President of the UPCC but was overlooked.

 

After he wrote the letter along with Ghulam Nabi Azad and other dissident Congress leaders as a part of G-23 demanding reform in the party, he was appointed Congress in-charge for West Bengal but was bulldozed by Adhir Ranjan Choudhury, so he left the election midway, and now has finally joined the BJP.

 

He was prior to this a fierce critic of the Yogi government and had alleged that Brahmins are not treated well in the state. Prasada has formed Brahmin Chetna Parishad to safeguard the interest of the community.

 

Jitin’s father late Jitendra Prasada, a former Union Minister and advisor to both Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao, the senior Prasada contested elections against Sonia Gandhi but lost and after his demise the Congress gave ticket to Kanta Prasad and later Jitin Prasada in 2004.

 

But after his stint as Union Minister Prasada lost his seat in 2014 and 19 and also the assembly elections in 2017. However, after joining BJP he praised the Prime Minister and said BJP is an institutional party and the rest are either regional or person-centric parties and it can only deal with the issues faced by the nation.

 

Prasada is not the first to leave the Congress party. Himanta Biswa Sarma, Jyotiraditya Scindia are the other high-profile leaders who took the exit route from the Congress. However, it is to be seen if the BJP will benefit from him as the UP government’s image after the pandemic has taken a beating and the question is — will BJP’s gambit to lure Brahmins will work? The answer can only come after the 2022 elections.

 

 

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Vijayan enters record books for being sworn-in as Kerala CM

Thiruvananthapuram: It was a day that members and supporters of the Left Democratic Front were eagerly awaiting since the results for the April 6 Assembly elections came out on May 2, as Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday took oath as Kerala Chief Minister for a second consecutive term, breaking an over four-decade pattern of alternating governments.

The LDF comfortably retained power, winning a record 99 seats in the 140-member Assembly and leaving the Congress-led united Democratic Front, which was hopeful of returning to power, with only 41.

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan administered the oath of office to Vijayan and 20 of his cabinet colleagues at a function at the Central Stadium here.

The venue, spanning around 80,000 square feet, and comprising an impressive dais, decked with red flowers sourced from a local flower farm, was ready since morning and across the state, people were glued to TV sets since 2 p.m. waiting for their hero Vijayan to arrive.

By 2 p.m, the around 400 invitees started arriving, with new CPI-M ministers, Saji Cherian, accompanied by his wife, and V.N. Vasavan, among the first ones to reach.

Religious leaders including bishops, Hindu seers and Muslim clerics from the city and other VVIPs were also present.

Incidentally in 2016, when Vijayan won his first victory, the stadium was filled with a record 40,000 people, cheering every Minister when their name was called, but this time, it was not to be as the Kerala High Court had directed that there should be no breaking of Covid protocols and the audience should be kept to the barest minimum.

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Vijayan to take oath on May 20, cabinet still not clear

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will finally take oath of office on May 20, when Governor Arif Mohammed Khan will read out the oath, but what’s yet to emerge is the composition of the cabinet.

When asked about this, Vijayan said, yes, talks are going on as the meeting of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) is fixed for next week and after that, the decision will be made.

The swearing in has been fixed to be held outdoors at the Central Stadium, a stone’s throw from the seat of power of the State Secretariat and with Covid protocols in force, the maximum number of people who will be allowed to grace the occasion is 750.

With a week more left for the event, the last minute talks are going on and the only person who is keeping all the cards close to his chest is Vijayan, as he has now become the last word in the LDF, as he created history by becoming the first to retain power.

Vijayan is still undecided on the total number, as according to the rules including the CM’s post he can have a maximum of 21 ministers.

However in 2016 to set a mark of austerity, he decided to have 20, but this time he is in a quandary as in the 140 member assembly the LDF has won 99 seats.

In the outgoing Vijayan cabinet the CPI-M had 12 ministers and the Chief Minister’s post, the second biggest ally CPI had four and one each for Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Congress (S) and Janata Dal (S).

However this time the Left has given full fledged ally status to Kerala Congress (B), Indian National League (INL) besides two new allies who jumped the fence from the Congress led Opposition – Kerala Congress (Mani) and Loktantrik, Janata Dal.

Then there is Kovoor Kunjumon who has been a fellow traveller of the Left ever since he came from the UDF, ahead of the 2016 assembly polls and this time he won his fifth straight election.

A media critic on condition of anonymity said no doubt it will be Vijayan who will be the deciding factor.

Vijayan is also the final word when it comes to selecting legislators from the CPI-M and by now cries have come that K.K. Shailaja, the Health Minister in the outgoing cabinet who won with the biggest margin of over 60,000 votes, was made the deputy chief minister.

But all those who know Vijayan, know well that this will only be wishful thinking as in his scheme of things, it’s he who is the final word and does not want a successor to him, at the moment.

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Assembly election results crucial for Rahul

New Delhi: Along with the candidates, the outcome of the Assembly elections in Kerala, Assam and Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry where polling has ended will be crucial for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who spear-headed his party’s campaign.

With the Congress deciding to convene a party session after the ongoing polls and hold Presidential elections, a win in at least two states is necessary for ‘Team Rahul’, which has managed the elections without involvement of senior leaders. In the first elections the party faced after the demise of veteran troubleshooter Ahmed Patel, Gandhi and his close aides were at the forefront in election management.

The most crucial election for them is in Assam where former Union Minister Jitendra Singh, who is close to Gandhi, managed the whole elections with the help of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, with decisions on alliances and other issues being taken at the state level after consent from the party leadership in Delhi.

Similarly, the talks on seat-sharing with the DMK in Tamil Nadu were initiated by K.C. Venugopal and Randeep Singh Surjewala but Sonia Gandhi had to intervene when the alliance was on verge of a rupture.

In Kerala, where the party which is much more organised, Rahul Gandhi, who is also the MP from the state’s Wayanad, gave much time to campaigning.

Team Rahul has been in forefront in all these states except West Bengal where till now Rahul Gandhi has not campaigned, though three phases have already been completed.

The ‘dissident’ camp, which raised the demand for widespread reforms at all levels in party functioning, is silent as it watches the situation closely and waits for the outcome.

If the Congress manages to win in two states, then it will be a run through for Rahul Gandhi but if it does not perform well, his leadership and working style of his team may face further questions.

Team Rahul Gandhi did not involve senior leaders and ‘dissident’ camp members like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal and Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who were not named in the star campaigners list, though both Azad and Sharma expressed their willingness to campaign if asked.

The only exception was Manish Tewari who was roped in for campaigning in Assam, West Bengal and Kerala.

It remains to be seen if these leaders will be fielded to campaign in West Bengal, where there are five phases more.

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National parties have lesser role to play in TN politics

Chennai: When Congress leader M Bhakthavalsalam demitted the office of the Chief Minister on March 6,1967, little did the people of Tamil Nadu know that he would be the last Chief Minister of the state from any national political party.

It was the advent of the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu with the DMK leader C.N. Annadurai becoming the chief minister of the South Indian state, followed by a series of Chief ministers from the parties.

Fanning up Tamil nationalism and anti-Hindi outrage, the Dravidian parties became highly popular and continue to rule the state till date.

Now in 2021, for the Assembly polls Prime Minister Narendra Modi has visited the state twice and a galaxy of senior BJP leaders ranging from Amit Shah to Nirmala Sitharaman have toured the state and attended umpteen public programs.

However, the moot question is where do the two major national parties, the BJP and Congress, stand today in the state. While both the parties have stitched up coalition with prominent Dravida parties — AIADMK and DMK — respectively, the number of seats allocated to these national parties is abysmally low.

The BJP is contesting in 20 seats as part of the AIADMK coalition for the 234-member legislative Assembly and the Congress was allotted 25 seats by the DMK, again a meager presence.

The saffron party has not shown much strength in the electoral politics of Tamil Nadu and the AIADMK justifies that the BJP was not even able to retain its Kanyakumari Lok Sabha seat even after the candidate was a Union minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet.

The DMK has bluntly told the Congress leadership that the party wants to secure its MLAs and, hence the lesser number of seats.

Interestingly, the national parties don’t have any other option other than accept the number of seats allocated to them and work silently at the grassroots.

With no immediate future for the national parties, the politics of Tamil Nadu is all set to be centered around the Dravidian parties.

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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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Cong loses govt in Puducherry before floor test

Puducherry: The Congress lost its lone government in south India with the Congress-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance in Puducherry losing the trust vote, leading to the resignation of Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy on Feb 22.

In a day of fast-paced and dramatic developments, the Congress-led government collapsed before facing the floor test in the state Assembly.

After the dramatic walkout by Narayanasamy and his MLAs, Speaker V P Sivakozhundu announced that the Congress government had lost its majority.

Narayanasamy drove straight to Raj Nivas to submit his resignation to Lieutenant Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan.

Speaking in the Assembly, Narayanasamy maintained that the opposition does not have adequate numbers. He argued that the three nominated MLAs, all belonging to the BJP, have no power to cast their votes in a floor test. He had reportedly pinned his hopes on the Speaker not allowing the nominated MLAs to cast their votes.

With this the Congress lost its only government in the south. As the Assembly polls in the Union Territory are slated in May this year, it remains to be seen if the Lieutenant Governor recommends President’s rule or invites NR Congress-led opposition alliance to form the government.

Addressing the Assembly ahead of the floor test, Narayanasamy alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is derailing India’s democratic system.

“What is happening in Puducherry now is political prostitution. But the truth will prevail,” he added.

He alleged that former Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi and the Centre colluded with the opposition to destabilize his government.

Narayanasamy, whose government was reduced to a minority due to the resignation of six MLAs of the ruling alliance during the last one month, said the MLAs who resigned would not be able to face the people as people would call them ‘opportunists’.

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