Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s latest salvo that the party must hold elections to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and key organisational posts of state chiefs lest it continues to “sit in the Opposition for the next 50 years”, is the manifestation of growing anger among Congressmen at the manner in which the leadership dealt with the recent well-meaning criticism by 23 of the party’s senior functionaries. For Rahul Gandhi to have admonished the signatories in the manner in which he did showed utter insensitivity to the ailing party’s needs. It is no wonder then that there is fear among the signatories that they would be further sidelined and ignored. The letter in no way amounted to defiance but so cocooned is the leadership in sycophancy and the display of crass subservience by partymen to them that even such a mild show of unhappiness over the direction of the party is treated with disdain and shock. Azad said candidly that those opposing the CWC elections were afraid of losing their positions, as they got their posts via ‘appointment cards’. Azad is leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha and his current term is until February 2021. In the current environment, he could well be displaced from his position. Another bigwig, Kapil Sibal, spoke in the same vein when he said that the elections in 2014 and 2019 reflected a ‘historic low’ for the Congress.
Close on their heels, another party leader, Anil Shastri, said in a statement that half the problems of the Congress party would get solved if the senior leadership (his specific reference was to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi) become accessible. He said if a party leader from a different state comes to Delhi, it's not easy for him to meet senior party leaders there. If the Congress is to learn anything from all this, it is imperative that they be heard with respect and their feedback be heeded. As things stand, the Congress party is distancing itself more and more from its cadres. Sonia Gandhi has consented to continue as interim president but if, after that, Rahul is again foisted as her successor, there is every chance that a section of the normally docile party would pick up cudgels against him. The leadership must see the writing on the wall before it is too late. Organisational elections can well be a good first step in involving the rank and file and creating a sense of participation that would come in handy for the party.
Xi’s pet project in trouble
There is no mistaking the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is going through a rough patch, with once-enthusiastic partners turning lukewarm. While much of it has to do with the relentless pressure being exerted on China by the US, which has watered down Beijing’s credibility and seriously compromised its economy, there is a strong fear among countries of falling into a debt trap with Beijing. Evidently, Xi Jinping had no illusions of it when he launched the initiative but he nurtured hopes that China would be in a position to psychologically subdue governments in these countries to follow the dictates of the government in Beijing, in a form of neo-colonialism. Over the past few months, countries like Malaysia, Myanmar, the Maldives and Nepal have either cancelled or put on hold several projects. Many other countries are reviewing their commitments, fearing dilution of their sovereignty. Though countries are shy of defying China and pulling out of tie-ups with it in general, projects worth an estimated US$ 30 billion have been scrapped so far and many others are under review.
Even Pakistan, which is under a Chinese spell, has proposed a significant recasting of the terms of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and set up a nine-member committee to review the entire project. India, on its part, has revived an interest in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which aims to step up economic cooperation among nations along the Bay of Bengal and littoral states. The EU and the US have also woken up to the need to meet the Chinese challenge in Asia and Africa economically and politically.