‘Purged’ British Muslim candidate quits Labour over ‘hierarchy of racism’

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NEW DELHI: Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, derided for a decade as a self-righteous dynast by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters, made an astonishing comeback on Tuesday, finding himself at the centre of an alliance that has made deep inroads into the ruling party’s strongholds.

A scion of India’s fabled Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, he launched two nationwide marches against what he called Modi’s politics of hate and fear, injecting new enthusiasm into his Congress party and rehabilitating his own image.

After the Congress shrank to just 52 seats in the 543-member lower house of parliament in 2019 following a landslide victory by Modi, it is quite possible that this number will almost double this year, according to the
Counting votes in the parliamentary elections.

That total will leave Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with fewer than the 272 seats it needs for a sole majority, and it will have to rely on allies to form a government.

Even though the Congress Party may have to sit out another term, it will have the loudest voice in a much stronger opposition led by Gandhi.

As the most prominent face of the opposition, Gandhi has been the target of attacks from Modi and other BJP leaders, who often refer to him as “the prince.”

Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers.

During the election campaign, Gandhi, with short-cropped black hair and a shaggy graying beard, traveled across the country as the figurehead of his party, even though the Congress Party is led by family loyalist Mallikarjun Kharge.

“I think Rahul Gandhi deserves credit, not only for his mobilization and demonstrations, but also for repeatedly clarifying the Congress party’s ideological stance against the BJP,” says Rahul Verma, a political scientist at the Center for Policy Research think tank in New Delhi.

“If there was a moment when Gandhi really came to the fore, it is now,” he said.

FIGHT AGAINST HATE

At a press conference on Tuesday, Gandhi pulled out a red-covered pocket copy of the country’s constitution, which he had repeatedly referred to during his election campaign, and said his alliance’s conduct was the “first step” to deter Modi from trying to change the constitution.

A two-thirds majority in parliament is required to change the constitution.

The Cambridge-educated Gandhi has often said that his fight against Modi’s BJP is not just about seizing power but also about defeating the Hindu-first character of the party and its parent party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is at odds with India’s constitutionally enshrined secular roots.

“My fight is against the ideology of the RSS and the BJP, which is a threat to our country. The hatred that these people spread, the violence that they spread, that is what I am fighting against… For me, this is the fight of my life,” he said at a party event two years ago.

The BJP denies these allegations.

Gandhi, 53, is single and, like his father, a trained pilot and certified scuba diver. He is known as a fitness and martial arts fanatic and has been spotted cycling along New Delhi’s leafy avenues accompanied by security guards.

Although he is very protective of his private life, Gandhi gave a small glimpse at the height of the election campaign. He posted a video of himself playing with his dog Yassa and scratching his belly. Yassa was seriously ill, which left Gandhi “very upset and depressed”.

Gandhi has been a member of Parliament since 2004, but his attendance rate is well below average. His frequent absences from Parliament and the country have been in the media spotlight and led to accusations by the BJP that he does not take politics seriously.

COMPARE WITH KENNEDYS

Gandhi was never a minister in a federal or state government and never led his Congress Party to victory in a parliamentary election.

The Congress was the largest national political party with a nationwide presence of 1.4 billion people until it was overtaken by the BJP in 2014.

Outside Parliament, Gandhi frequently reminded his followers of his family’s commitment and sacrifices and spoke about the assassinations of his grandmother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and his father and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The Gandhi family still dominates the Congress and enjoys absolute loyalty.

This political line, compared to the Kennedys in the United States both for its power and the tragedies that have befallen it, began with Motilal Nehru, who practiced law at the beginning of the 20th century and gave up his Western lifestyle to become leader of the Congress Party.

His son Jawaharlal was the closest confidant of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister from 1947 to 1964.

Jawaharlal’s daughter Indira married a Gandhi who was not related to the Mahatma, but the name was certainly no disadvantage in politics. Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1966, but was voted out of office in 1977 after she imposed a severe domestic emergency on the country, making her the first member of her family to lose a national election.

But the myth of the dynasty brought her back to power within three years, and her son Rajiv took over after she was shot dead by two bodyguards in 1984. Rajiv Gandhi served as prime minister for one term and was assassinated by a suicide bomber in 1991 while campaigning for a return to power.

These killings have made Rahul, his mother Sonia and his sister Priyanka some of the most protected people in the world. Armed men in suits and dark glasses guard them at public events, and for security reasons Rahul even used a false name at university and while working in London at the turn of the century.

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