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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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Can Rahul Gandhi save the sinking ship of Congress party?

by K.S. Tomar

History does repeat itself, and India’s Grand Old Party  is facing an uncertain present and future as it may head towards a split. Especially if its leadership crisis is not solved quickly. Time is running out for it to revive itself, if at all.

Stinging defeats in the recently concluded assembly elections — elimination of Congress in West Bengal and its failure to win in Kerala and Assam– for the Gandhi siblings Rahul and Priyanka have weakened the control of the dynastic family over the party organization.

History tells us the valiant fight Mrs Indira Gandhi, nicknamed as “Gungi Gudiya” then, put up against the powerful Syndicate in the late 60s. She broke away and formed what she called the real Congress in 1969 and continued to dominate Indian politics till 1984, with a few breaks in between. Sonia Gandhi took over the party reluctantly and revived it to an extent to  enable it to rule for 10 years till 2014.

Rahul Gandhi faces a bigger challenge to rejuvenate the party which is at its lowest ebb and facing a challenge from a cohort of  party leaders, who eventually may not dare to force a split. But if the party does split, the BJP will celebrate in glee – one more step closer to Congress mukt India.

Indications are Rahul is poised to take over the party next month. He is already functioning as the de facto President owing to his mother’s illness. His proactiveness in highlighting the failures of the Modi government, statements on Chinese incursions, and Rafale deal disclosures in French media have endeared him to the Congress rank and file.

Rahul Gandhi was the only leader who consistently warned the Modi government about Covid 19 and the danger it posed to the nation and how public health and economy could be ravaged. But the Congress defeats in Assam and Kerala will bear down on his leadership prospects in the faction ridden party.

Rahul Gandhi’s stand is that if workers wanted, he was ready to play any role. This indicates his willingness to take on the mantle of leadership again. Poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who helped Mamata Banerjee and MK Stalin to win West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, doubts the prospects of a coalition at the national level of opposition parties. But he insists there is a dire need of hegemony of a pan-India party (obviously hinting at Congress) weaving other parties around it to

to challenge the strong and popular leader, Narendra Modi, and his election winning machinery and RSS. He discards regional leaders trying to unite opposition parties, given their inflated egos and differences.

But Congress needs to get its act together and frame a strategy to handle states. At the same time, the Rahul-Priyanka duo must take on the Modi government aggressively, in all polls to be held next year. Rahul Gandhi is the only leader in Congress who can take on the mighty Modi, especially so after other Congress leaders have gone into silent mode. On leadership question, one option is to bring forward a non-Gandhi party president like Rajasthan chief minister, Ashok Gehlot  who enjoys blessings and patronage of the Gandhis, besides hailing from OBC background. But in view of the strong BJP leadership and a party having vast resources and the well-oiled machinery of RSS, a young and energetic leader like Rahul Gandhi may fit in the shoes of Sonia Gandhi and the change may take place in June.

KS TOMAR thesatime | The Southasian times

The writer is national columnist and political analyst based in Delhi.

 

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coronavirus India Latest News

India struggles to cope with dangerous second wave

By K.S. Tomar

India has been completely shaken by a monstrous spurt in numbers of Covid1-9 cases and deaths. Prime Minister Narender Modi’s new vaccine policy encourages local manufactures to expand their facilities with the help of center’s financial assistance and logistics notwithstanding, the fact remains that such measures ought to have been taken after the first wave last year.

PM Modi recently announced a “liberalized and accelerated Covid-19 vaccination strategy” with much fanfare which has been criticized by Sonia Gandhi. In  a letter to him, she termed it as arbitrary and discriminatory thereby urging him to intervene immediately to reverse it. Rahul Gandhi compared it with the demonetization and dubbed it as primarily meant for benefiting few industrialists in the country.

BJP, however, sharply criticized Sonia and Rahul for indulging in propaganda that is aimed at misguiding the nation. BJP leaders said, “when things shouldn’t be politicized, Congress, especially Gandhi family, is doing politics.”

Due to the shortage of oxygen, many Covid19 patients are dying and the situation is horrible in Delhi, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh, etc. This is being attributed to lack of timely formulation of policy to establish new oxygen plants besides creating a distribution system to the states. Delhi High Court had to pass stringent orders to the Center, saying “you are not exploring all avenues to augment oxygen supply. Beg, borrow or steal. Provide oxygen, whatever means to hospitals treating Covid19 patients.”  While taking suo motu cognizance, the Supreme Court told the Center that Covid19 is like a national emergency, hence drawing up a plan to deal with the crisis.

Experts say that Centre and state governments went into ‘Silent Mode’ after the first wave.

The government’s projected population for the year 2021 for the 18-­44 years age group is 595 million. With two doses per person, this translates to 1,190 million doses. This huge population has not been included in priority groups for vaccine access,  and they have to depend solely on State governments and the private sector.   

Given the shortage of vaccines now, the prime minister defended the decision to supply vaccines to 80 needy and poor nations as he supports the need of ensuring equitable access to it across the world. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan declared that the country had entered “the endgame” of its own battle against the pandemic. Even RBI announced in unusually enthusiastic tones that India had “bent [the Covid-19 curve] like Beckham” and that “soon the winter of our discontent will be made glorious summer.”    

In this dismal scenario, civilians can play a pivotal role and this warrants a complete check on Hardwar Kumbh like congregations, crowded prayer meetings during Ramadan, no more rallies during assembly polls, small social gatherings in marriages, etc.

Meanwhile, in a significant development, US President Joe Biden has conveyed to Prime Minister Modi that it understands India’s pharmaceutical requirements and promised to give the matter due consideration, thereby making it clear that the current hurdle in the export of critical raw materials needed to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines is mainly due to an Act which enforces US companies to prioritize domestic consumption.  

Experts believe that the worst is yet to come as more states resort to restrictions to prevent the surge in infections from overwhelming medical infrastructure.  

(K.S. Tomar is a senior journalist and national columnist based in Delhi)

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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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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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Govt offloading of PSUs means loss of public money: Sonia

New Delhi: Interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi lashed out at the Centre over its disinvestment policy, alleging that the ‘fire sale of assets is to help the crony capitalists close to the government’.

Sonia Gandhi wrote this in an article which was shared by the Congress with the media.

She said in the article, “The Modi government is using the economy’s collapse since the pandemic to rush headlong into its mission of handing over large portions of India’s wealth to its favorite crony capitalists. It has announced its intent to become cash rich by selling the family silver, through hasty privatization of India’s public sector undertakings (PSUs).”

She said the Modi government has explicitly embraced “privatization”, instead of “disinvestment”.

“Its choice of language signals its intent. Unable to manage the nation’s finances, unable to inspire trust in the private sector to boost investment, the government has turned to distress sale of our national assets. Will selling assets for short-term gains make up for the long-term loss of public wealth?

“This fire sale is being justified by citing enhanced efficiency and the generation of funds for the government’s welfare programs. This is a deceptive argument. What we are likely to witness in reality is the privatization of PSU profits, and the nationalization of private sector losses.

“In the garb of privatization, valuable assets and profit-making companies will be undervalued and sold to cronies who will make a killing. On the other hand, defaulters with huge loan burdens will be bailed out using public funds,” she alleged.

“Executed carefully and strategically, disinvestment (which is the sale of a part of the government’s shares in PSUs) can generate resources for the government, set the right incentives for their management, and reward the investing public. In that spirit, in our 2019 Manifesto, the Congress party promised a middle path to disinvest from only non-core, non-strategic public sector enterprises.”

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Former petroleum minister Capt Satish Sharma no more

New Delhi: Former Union Petroleum Minister and close aide of the Gandhi family, Captain Satish Sharma (73), passed away due to age related ailments on Wednesday. Sources said that he was not keeping well for some time now.

Congress Secretary K.L. Sharma, who was close to Satish Sharma, confirmed that the latter passed away on Wednesday.

Captain Sharma was an MP in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha and had close ties with the Rajiv Gandhi family. He held the petroleum portfolio during the Narsimha Rao government. In 1991, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Rajiv Gandhi’s constituency of Amethi following his assassination. From January 1993 until December 1996, he was the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

Born in Secunderabad in 1947, Sharma was a trained pilot just like Rajiv Gandhi.

Congress spokesperson Akhilesh Pratap Singh tweeted, “Former union minister captain Satish Sharma passed away, may God bless his soul.”

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In memoir, Pranab blames Sonia for Congress’ defeat, says Modi’s first term autocratic

‘The Presidential Years’ is the fourth volume of Pranab Mukherjee’s memoirs and will be released next month.

A soon-to-be-released autobiography by former President Pranab Mukherjee blames Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the party’s devastating loss in the 2014 general elections, and contends that Prime Minister Narendra Modi employed an autocratic style of governance during his first term in power, the book’s publisher announced last Friday.

Mukherjee, who was a senior minister in the UPA government and the Congress party’s chief troubleshooter before his term as President between 2012 and 2017, died in August 2020. His new book, The Presidential Years, is the fourth volume of his memoirs and will be released in January 2021.

The statements attributed to Mukherjee are from a release by Rupa books.

“While Dr Singh was preoccupied with saving the coalition, which took a toll on governance, Modi seemed to have employed a rather autocratic style of governance during his first term, as seen by the bitter relationship among the government, the legislature and the judiciary,” he wrote, according to Rupa. “Only time will tell if there is a better understanding on such matters in the second term of this government.”

According to Rupa’s statement, the former President wrote in his first-person account that he believed the moral authority to govern was vested with the PM and the state of the nation was always reflective of the functioning of the PM and their administration.

Mukherjee, who was a senior leader of the Congress party for five decades and held almost every senior position in the party and central government, had strong words for his party’s functioning.

“I do believe that the party’s leadership lost political focus after my elevation as president. While Sonia Gandhi was unable to handle the affairs of the party, Dr Singh’s prolonged absence from the House put an end to any personal contact with other MPs,” he wrote. In the 2014 general election, the Congress slumped to its worst performance and won only 44 of 543 Lok Sabha seats. He wrote that there was a section of leaders who believed that if he (Mukherjee) was elevated as PM in 2004 — when the Congress stitched together a coalition to snatch power with an unexpectedly strong showing in the general elections — the party’s poor performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls could have been averted. But, he added, he did not subscribe to this view.

Mukherjee’s memoir comes amid a firestorm raging within the Congress over its internal processes as senior leaders publicly express their displeasure following a series of electoral reverses. In August, a group of 23 leaders wrote to party chief Gandhi demanding internal reforms.

In the book – replete with rare photos and handwritten notes, according to Rupa – Mukherjee also touched on the diplomatic tension that apparently flared up during the visit of US President Barack Obama in 2015 when the US Secret Service insisted Obama travel in a specially armoured vehicle brought from the US, and not in the car designated for use by the Indian head of state.

“They wanted me to travel in the same armored car along with Obama. I politely but firmly refused to do so, and requested the MEA to inform the US authorities that when the US president travels with the Indian president in India, he would have to trust our security arrangements. It cannot be the other way around,” he said, according to the statement.

The memoir, the publisher said, also focused on his journey from a remote village in Bengal to Rashtrapati Bhavan, and how he reshaped the presidency. The book also recollected the challenges he faced as President, the difficult decisions he made and the tightrope walk he undertook to ensure that both constitutional propriety and his opinion were taken into consideration.

“I do believe that the (Congress) party’s leadership lost political focus after my elevation as President,” writes Pranab Mukherjee in his memoir. (Photo courtesy Times Group)
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Sonia at 74 presides over weakest Congress ever

New Delhi: Sonia Gandhi, who turned 74 on Wednesday, has decided not to celebrate her birthday amid the farmers distress and the Covid-19 pandemic.

She has asked her party workers to be involved in relief work instead.

The party leaders are pouring in with birthday wishes. “Long life to her”, Salman Khurshid wrote on social media; “Best wishes to Hon’ble Congress President and UPA Chairperson Smt Sonia Gandhi. May she be blessed with good health,” Khurshid said.

Sonia Gandhi, who was born in 1946 in the Italian town of Lusiana Conco, is the longest serving President of the grand old party.

Over the years she has seen both highs and lows but at this point, things are not well within the party as an internal rebellion has been raging for sometime and the party has not been able to stop BJP’s march in all forms of elections.

People raising doubt over the Gandhi family at the helm of the party has gained momentum like never before. However, she and her children are still the crowd-pullers.

The G23, a group of 23 members, who wrote the infamous letter about reforms in the party is not relenting and has again raised their concern after the Bihar poll defeat.

Sonia Gandhi also lost her ace trouble shooter Ahmed Patel due to Covid just days back, and her detractors in the party have given her some time to grief it seems.

As the Congress is bracing for polls in crucial states of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu the party is also battling internal rifts within its fold.

The old guard is up against her son Rahul Gandhi’s style of working and is not pleased with his decisions.

In the raging farmers protest that has taken the national capital in a chokehold for days, the Congress is led by the Chief Minister of Punjab, who is spearheading this movement. Rahul Gandhi despite taking early lead during his tractor yatra is missing in the final lap.

The party is going for presidential polls soon and insiders say if Rahul Gandhi throws in his hat he might get the post unchallenged but if he fields a candidate then the post may not go uncontested.

While Sonia Gandhi who took over party leadership in 1998 and got the UPA government elected in 2004 was the most powerful person in the country till 2014, the party since has lost two consecutive general elections and have been reduced to a double digit.

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