17 DECEMBER 2018
Old vs new
The Congress must strengthen its democratic processes while choosing CMs
Whether the Congress erred in privileging members of the old guard to lead the governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh has become a subject of debate. Those who argue that it missed a trick in not picking Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia as Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh may well be right. These choices may have signalled a readiness to be bold and break the old mould. But the real question to ask of the party is how it arrived at the choice of its Chief Ministers. Members of the Congress Legislature Party in the three States left the choice to Congress president Rahul Gandhi, making a mockery of democratic conventions and the electoral mandate. Although the Congress is not the only party that is guilty of such practices, it has become something of a custom, mirroring the leadership’s distrust of developing strong regional leaders. In this case, the final choice may well have reflected the wishes of a majority of the members of the CLPs of the three States, but the Congress still needed to signal the all-powerful nature of the office of the party president in the selection. Closed-door discussions and opaque deal-making preceded the final announcement of the nominees, to be elected “unanimously” in another meeting of the CLP. In Rajasthan, the party opted for two-time Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who had lost two elections, over Mr. Pilot, the State Congress president. Mr. Pilot, despite his role in the campaign, did not have the support of the old guard. His detractors like to point out that he did not take the Congress to a comfortable majority, what Mr. Gehlot had done as the campaign spearhead in 1998 and 2008. But the Congress leadership has opted in the end for experience over youthful dynamism. The compromise was in the form of the deputy chief ministership for Mr. Pilot.
In Madhya Pradesh, the decision was relatively easy. It was the president of the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, Kamal Nath, who fronted the campaign. Former Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia had his fair share of supporters, but it was Mr. Nath, who is far senior, who was perceived as having a bigger claim to the post. Those in the Congress calling for blooding youngsters may well have to accept the sober reality that this will only come about as part of a longer, deeper process. Of course, it takes more than a change at the helm to bring about a political reorientation. The process will have to start at the organisational level and extend to the distribution of the party ticket. To allow the space for the party to grow, Mr. Gandhi needs to accelerate the process of letting leaders from the grassroots to emerge. Youth leaders of any significance today are of the second or third generation in the party. A good way to start would be by decentralising power and not concentrating it in the so-called high command, a feeble euphemism for the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Qatar is now taking the fight to the Saudi Arabia-led OPEC and GCC
Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s decision to stay away from the December 9 Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh is the latest reminder of the growing disunity among the Gulf countries. Qatar, blockaded by three GCC countries, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, and their non-GCC allies, has said it will not discuss a compromise unless the blockade is lifted. The Saudi-led bloc imposed it in June 2017, accusing Qatar of funding terrorism. But as Riyadh came under increasing global pressure after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul, it has shown signs of reconciliation. In October, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is believed to have ordered the Khashoggi hit, surprised observers by praising the Qatari economy. The personal invitation to the GCC meet from King Salman bin Abdulaziz to the Qatari Emir followed the Crown Prince’s remarks. But Qatar, a tiny kingdom but the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, remains defiant. Doha has announced its decision to quit OPEC, the first Arab nation to do so since the cartel was formed in 1960. Though Qatar said the decision was not political, clearly its exit from OPEC was a snub to Saudi Arabia, its de facto leader.
The blockade has triggered tensions among other GCC countries as well. Saudi Arabia is upset that Oman and Kuwait did not join the embargo. Kuwait was trying to mediate between the rivals camps, which hasn’t gone down well with Riyadh. Last September, the Crown Prince started a two-day tour of Kuwait. But ties were reportedly so tense that he left the country within a few hours. Oman continues to be independent of Saudi influence by keeping ties open with both Qatar and Iran. The blockade has made Qatar only more independent in its foreign policy decisions. It has stepped up assistance for Hamas in Gaza, accelerated a plan to allow Turkey to set up a military camp in the country and resisted calls to cut ties with Iran. The decision to quit OPEC and the Emir’s absence at the GCC meet (a state minister was sent to represent the country) point to an increasingly confident Qatar. But the intra-Gulf quarrels have dampened hopes for the integration of the region. The bloc, which once talked about a common Gulf currency and robust connectivity projects, is now a ghost of its old self. After the summit, the GCC issued a customary statement, emphasising regional stability and economic challenges. Even as the summit was on, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa criticised the Emir’s decision to skip the meet, while Doha slammed the communiqué for its failure to address the blockade. That is the state of affairs in the GCC.