Congress brings challenge to Modi & BJP | Daily News

Congress brings challenge to Modi & BJP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi.

Indian politics are in focus this week with the major defeat suffered by Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) in key state assembly elections, while UK’s Theresa May and France’s Emmanuel Macron shared the European worry scene, and Donald Trump did have cause for worry.

India’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP had clear defeats in state elections this week, giving an unexpected and big boost to the Congress Party and its leader Rahul Gandhi, as parliamentary elections approached next year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP lost control of three key states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, with the opposition centre-left Congress emerging as the single largest party in each state.

PM Modi who has been strongly opposed to the Congress, and who has carried on a strong campaign directed against the Congress and the Gandhi family, succeeding India’s first Prime Minister and Freedom Leader Jawaharlal Nehru, unusually accepted defeat with a tweet saying “We accept the people's mandate with humility”, in the BJP's first major setback in state elections since it won national power, taking 282 of 543 parliamentary seats in 2014.

The results are expected to boost the fortunes of the Congress party, which has campaigned to present itself as a credible rival to the BJP, and the likely potential leader of a broad anti-Modi alliance.


British PM Theresa May

During the state election campaign, Modi and other members of the BJP ridiculed Gandhi, 48, as the callow scion of a political dynasty. But the Congress leader was able to engineer what is the most significant defeat for Modi since he took office in 2014.

From the time of its national victory in 2014, Narendra Modi had a strategy of seeking to create a ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’ – a Bharat Free of Congress – which appears to have been largely defeated with these assembly polls. It had shown an increased following for Rahul Gandhi, in his attempts to organise opposition alliances against the largely Hindutva-led BJP. There are signs of the emergence of new youth leaders in Indian politics, which could have a larger impact in the national elections next year.

Modi and the BJP swept into office in 2014 on promises of an economic boom and a corruption-free government. However, with just months to go before the 2019 polls, his popularity has started to wane.

Economic growth dropped sharply to 7.1 percent in the latest quarter, compared to the 8.2 percent GDP growth reported in August. The strongest protests against Modi came from the agricultural population, and among farmers in the rural belt. The BJP’s reputation has also been badly affected by increasing incidents of communal violence and sexual violence against women.

Interestingly, the poll results in two other states -- Telangana and Mizoram -- showed both the BJP and Congress losing to regional parties respectively, indicating a rise in the voices of regional parties, which could affect the coming national polls.

With national elections expected to be held in April/May 2019, these results show a clear contest between the BJP and Congress, which was not the political calculation of the Modi and the BJP, who thought of isolating the Congress, which won only 44 seats in the 2014 national election. However, the Hindutva cry of the BJP and its increasing religious and ethnicity themes could continue to give it considerable strength in 2019, too.

May clings to power

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has renewed efforts to obtain some concessions from the European Union (EU) in the Brexit Deal, after escaping a defeat as the leader of the Conservative Party last Wednesday, in the most jamming situation she faced as Prime Minister.

With her leadership of the Tory party challenged, she did get a majority of party MPs, and remained in charge of the Brexit process, but with little to show there were any changes in the ‘desperate’ negotiations with the EU, which had clearly said there will be no changes to the Brexit Deal. To win the vote of confidence by the Tory MPs, May did assure that she would not lead the party at the next general election due in 2022, which makes this her only leg as Prime Minister.

The Tory party cannot move her out of office for another year, but she is nowhere near a workable Brexit policy that can be passed through the House of Commons. She did one of the most shocking parliamentary moves this week, suddenly putting off the scheduled final debate and vote on her Brexit Deal with the EU, when she realized it would be hugely defeated.

Conceding the actual defeat she faced in her own party, in pledging to step down as leader before the next general election, May said: “I've said that In my heart I would love to be able to lead the Conservative Party into the next general election, but I think it is right that the party feels that they would prefer to go into that election with another leader.”

She added: “I don't expect an immediate breakthrough, but what I do hope is that we can start work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary.”

At Thursday's EU summit in Brussels, May has the opportunity to spell out the problems she faces to leaders of all the other 27 member states. But the key leaders she has already met, have clearly said there could be no changes to the signed treaty, but would consider ‘explanations and clarifications’. She will once again have to face a strongly opposed Commons, with the likelihood of a new referendum on Brexit rapidly gaining momentum in the country and the Commons; the story of an awaiting defeat for her.

France: Christmas Market attack

The French Government has urged the ‘yellow vest’ protesters not to hold their fifth round of demonstrations today, calling for economic relief, and the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron, as the Police were hunting for a fugitive who attacked a Christmas Market in the city of Strasbourg.

The Strasbourg attack, the oldest Christmas Market in Europe, has brought new strains on the security forces, with threats in both France and Germany, following a 29 year-old Strasbourg native, who killed two-and injured 13, with reported shouts of Islamic terrorist slogans, too. The situation here is an additional strain on Police and Security services if the ‘yellow vest’ protests too take place.

Records show that Strasbourg held a Klausenmarik (Saint Nicolas market) on December 6 each year, and it dates back to the late 12th century. Strasbourg is also known for its famous cathedral, and has a huge tourist presence in December.

The government has appealed to ‘yellow vest ’protesters to be reasonable, citing the strain on security personnel.

Before Tuesday's attack in Strasbourg, President Macron made a major retreat in policies, scrapping a fuel tax increase slated for January 2019, a core demand of the protestors, from the rural areas and smaller towns. He also announced a hike in the minimum wage, tax relief on overtime payments. And a rollback of taxes for pensioners. But, he did not restore the Wealth Tax on the rich.

The ’yellow vest’ protests began on November 17 over fuel tax increases, but snowballed into a revolt over living standards as well as Macron's perceived indifference to the problems of ordinary citizens. While some of the ‘yellow vest’ movement's representatives have said they are open to halting the protests to negotiate with the government, others say Macron's concessions are not enough. This is a movement that shows being a deeper political drive, and leading to new developments in French politics. It is a major challenge to President Macron’s policies.

Trump has problems

President Donald Trump is facing new problems with his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen sentenced to three years in prison, on tax evasions and matters involving Trump’s campaign finance during his election.

Cohen pleaded guilty in a case brought by New York prosecutors for campaign finance violations, tax evasion and making a false statement to a bank, and false statements to Congress.

The former lawyer, who was earlier very much respected by Donald Trump, the President has recently referred to him as a ‘weak person’ who is seeking to have reduced jail terms. Cohen while being sentenced has blasted his former boss's “dirty deeds” and repented for joining Trump's “dark side”.

These are new situations that President Trump is facing, with increasing reports of possible impeachment over the illegal payments made by his lawyer, Cohen, which also adds to the increasing problems with the US Senate, over moves to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia, and the Crown Prince there, over the role of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 


French Police on high alert after Strasbourg Christmas market attack.


 

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