India: Gandhi brand no longer sells in Indian politics – 6 Aug 2017

  • 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 vice-presidential election.
  • The Congress-backed candidate was crushed in 5 Aug 17’s parliamentary ballot by the nominee of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
  • It heightened a crisis for Congress and raised fresh questions about the party’s top leadership – especially 47-year-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.
  • 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 favourable vice-president could also bolster Modi’s legislative agenda as the vice president doubles as chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
  • 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.

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