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Rahul Gandhi lacks killer instinct to fight authoritarian Modi, Congress should shed hereditary anachronism: FT

By Our Representative
Top British daily Financial Times (FT), even as recognizing that India’s growth rate is "lacklustre" and prime minister Narendra Modi’s policies are "floundering", has said in a hard-hitting editorial that, the "increasingly authoritarian leader still enjoys a favourable rating from nearly nine out of 10 people in the country" largely because of "lack of a competent, credible opposition".
The unsigned editorial, titled "Indian democracy cries out for a real opposition: The Congress party risks becoming a hereditary anachronism" (November 30), says Modi's "authoritarian" rule is in fact "an indictment of India’s political system and particularly of the Congress party, Modi’s primary opposition".
It says, "Maintaining the world’s largest democracy is probably modern India’s greatest achievement but the current lack of a competent, credible opposition poses a danger to the country and to its roughly 1.3bn people", emphasising, "It is time for the party of Nehru to make way for a leader who is not his descendant."
Terming the decision of the Congress to anoint Rahul Gandhi as party president "hereditary anachronism", FT says, "In its desire to preserve the hegemony of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Congress has stifled its grassroots leaders and blocked any serious talent from rising to the top."
Insisting that "this is a terrible mistake for a party that suffered its worst poll defeat in the 2014 elections and now confronts the most serious crisis in its 132-year history", the daily calls Modi "a masterful politician", adding, Rahul is an "amiable and pleasant fellow" but lacks "the will to win power or the killer instinct necessary for the cut and thrust of political battle in India."
FT believes, Rahul's "protestations over the faltering economy" and the chaos caused by "the withdrawal of certain banknotes and the botched attempt to simplify India’s Byzantine tax code have been weak and ineffectual", adding, "He has waffled on crucial political decisions and appears confused as to what his party should stand for in the 21st century."
Predicting that Rahul is "\unlikely to lead his party to victory in the next general election in 2019" and will have to struggle to present "a viable opposition that can hold Modi and his incumbent BJP to account", the daily believes, " The most coherent criticism of the prime minister and the BJP has come from the dissident ranks of the BJP itself."
Insisting that a "powerful opposition is critical in India because most of the pillars of democracy are still weak", FT notes, "The bureaucracy and courts are creaking and corrupt, the rule of law is patchy at best and the electoral process is dominated by patronage, handouts and identity politics."
Pointing out that in the absence of credible opposition, Modi has become "increasingly authoritarian", FT says, "Freedom of speech has eroded markedly and Hindu nationalism is on the rise. Only the Congress party has the nationwide presence needed to counter the BJP and offer an alternative", but underlines, "Combined with weak leadership, the logic of the patronage system has further undermined the Congress party as a viable political force."
"Out of power", the daily notes, the Congress is now left with "far fewer resources to dole out rewards and its ground game in most of the states has been obliterated, while the BJP party machinery has strengthened." It adds, while it may be "too late now to derail Congress’s coronation" of Rahul, "it is not too late to stop India becoming just another Asian authoritarian state with the trappings of elections."
Advising the Congress "to delegate more responsibility to its state-level leaders and focus on articulating a coherent policy platform to compete with Modi" if it is to become a genuine force in opposition, FT says, "It must also recognise that hereditary privilege and dynastic rule is no longer acceptable for the world’s most populous democracy."

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