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For the first time since 1995, the Congress is looking at its best chance yet to wrest Gujarat from the Bharatiya Janata Party and, at the same time, cement the position of its soon-to-be president Rahul Gandhi.

The party is banking heavily on the Patidars’ anger against the BJP, a factor that will be big in the first round of the two-phase polls on Saturday.

At stake for the Congress is a crucial momentum that it needs ahead of state elections in 2018 and the general election in 2019.

A win in Gujarat will boost Congress’s chances of retaining Karnataka — which may have elections in March-April — and ousting its arch-rival from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan later in the year.

The Patel factor

Patels, who constitute 12% of Gujarat’s 60 million-odd population and considered the core supporters of the BJP for the past two decades, are up in arms against the ruling party over the reservation issue. They can potentially influence the outcome in around 60 seats in a 182-member state assembly.

With Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel pledging support to the Congress, the nervousness in the BJP camp is palpable.

The addition of Other Backward Classes (OBC) leader Alpesh Thakor and tacit support from Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani have also raised the hopes of a turnaround for the opposition party after 22 years, of which Modi ruled for 12.

The party face

As part of its strategy, the Congress has not declared its chief ministerial candidate and party leaders suggest this works to their advantage and checks factionalism.

But, important, it is also a lack of a credible face in Gujarat for the Congress, which has leaders like Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab and Virbhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh. The campaigning, largely, has been around Rahul Gandhi.

Lessons from 2012

Saurashtra and Kutch are crucial for both parties as these have the highest concentration of seats in the first phase. Together, they account for 58 out of the 89 seats going to polls on Saturday. In the 2012 assembly elections, the BJP won 35 while the Congress bagged 20. Of the remaining three, two were won by the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) of Keshubhai Patel and one by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Hence, a party that wins the maximum seats from the regions could have the leverage to form the next government.

A keen contest will also be witnessed on the 12 seats in Surat, the diamond and textile hub of the country. Here, the Congress is hoping the trading community will vote against the BJP to show their displeasure over demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

For his part, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has campaigned extensively in Saurashtra and south Gujarat, taking on the BJP over issues such as the note ban, GST, job losses, farm distress and its development model. He even coined the phrase “Gabbar Singh Tax” for GST in one of his election rallies.

But as the polling date drew near, the campaign narrative shifted to Gandhi’s temple visits, Ram Mandir issue and political mud-slinging.

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Politicians and commentators in the Arab world voiced dismay on Wednesday night in response to Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plan to move the American Embassy, with a prominent Jordanian figure proclaiming, “Peace is dead.”

Abdul-Hadi Majali, former speaker of the Jordanian Parliament, told Al Jazeera, “The Jordanian people are as angry as the Palestinian people. Tonight, Trump killed international legitimacy. For many years it was dying, now it is total death. We had been hoping there would be peace but now the peace is dead.”

“The time has come to say no to the US,” he added. “Geography, history and religion are with us. What we are demanding is international legitimacy, but Israel is behaving recklessly and is supported by Trump.”

The foreign minister of Turkey, which threatened to sever relations with Israel if Trump went ahead, reacted swiftly, tweeting it was “irresponsible” and that the move violated international law.

Trump’s decision is expected to resonate strongly among the populace of many Arab countries, given their continued identification with the Palestinian cause. But despite the scheduling of an emergency session of the Arab League for Saturday, governmental actions are unlikely to reflect the public’s anger. “So far, Arab governments are busy with their own internal affairs,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at al-Azhar University in Gaza. “The Gulf countries are preoccupied with the war in Yemen and with containing the Iranian/Shi’ite threat, so we probably won’t hear a thing from them.”

At the street level, however, Abusada predicted mass protests and demonstrations in Amman, Cairo, Tunis, Khartoum and other Arab capitals.

“I don’t think we will see protests that destabilize the regimes, but they will reflect defiance against the American move,” he said.
Abusada said Trump will be seen as having taken an anti-Muslim step that will have an impact on al-Aksa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. “It touches the feeling of Muslims. Trump is not recognizing west Jerusalem as the capital, he’s recognizing Jerusalem without differentiating between east and west. In a way, it will be seen as recognizing the occupation of al-Aksa.”

However, Abusada said he did not expect emotions to run as high as when the police installed metal detectors at entrances to the site last summer, because it does not involve the same sense of “physical intrusion.”

Public opinion in Jordan, which has a Palestinian majority and is the custodian of al-Aksa, is expected to be strong in reaction. The Jordan Times wrote in its editorial Wednesday that Trump was harming moderates in the region. “The current administration is ignoring US history as a peace broker, as a supporter of forces of moderation and the position of its friends and allies in the region at this critical time.”

Egyptian writer Emile Amin, in an article in the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat, wrote that Trump was fueling extremism in the Arab world. “The Arabs have no more substantial cause than the Palestinian cause, caught between pain and hope over seven decades. Trump’s decision is a big change from the international consensus since before 70 years. Now the efforts of the lost peace between Palestinians and Israelis have reached a dead end. It is over forever. Even if Trump looks at his decision as a small symbolic step, it bears in it dramatic painful meanings which offer legitimation to the occupation.”

Amin suggested that Trump was “pushing the region into a whirlwind of doctrinal hostility. It is an absolute conflict without any compromise. He is triggering a new wave of violence and counter-violence in a volatile region. Most jihadists believe that only through jihad can they achieve their goals,” he continued. “Trump is inflaming the soul of jihadists to continue their terror.”

Shibley Telhami, a fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, also said extremists would be boosted by Trump’s move. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Telhami said Trump “lives in another world. Tonight he offers a gift to all extremists. He talks of making peace but his decisions are the death of peace.”

“He gave no consideration to Arab and Muslim leaders who asked him to change the decision,” Telhami said.

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Politics over Ayodhya resonated in poll-bound Gujarat and in New Delhi a day after Congress MP and lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for litigant Iqbal Ansari in the Ayodhya lawsuit, asked the Supreme Court to defer the hearing until July 2019.

After Haji Mehboob, one of the defendants, disagreed with Sibal and said he favoured an early decision in the matter — a lawyer for the UP Sunni Central Wakf Board said Haji Mehboob was not its member and Sibal not its lawyer — but in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi picked on Sibal’s plea, praised the Sunni Wakf Board and attacked the Congress for “the sin of keeping important issues unresolved” for electoral advantage and “making a mess of the country”.

He told a poll rally in Dhandhuka that Sibal “appears for the Muslim community” and asked the gathering “should we keep an issue such as Ram Mandir pending in the name of elections”. BJP president Amit Shah too trained guns on the rival party, tweeting about “shameful posturing by Congress on Ram Temple issue”. In Ayodhya, before attending the Yaum-e-Gham (Day of Sorrow) meeting to mark 25 years of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Haji Mehboob told The Indian Express that Sibal should not have made the statement he made in court.

“I don’t like this appeal of Sibal Sahab to adjourn the hearing till 2019. I was in Delhi for three days and I met him on Monday but he did not discuss any such opinion… He is also a Congress leader… Unko aisa nahi kehna chahiye tha (he should not have made such a statement). Faisla jald ho aur desh me aman kayam ho (there should be an early decision, and peace should prevail in the country)… We will accept the verdict of the court,” Haji Mehboob said.

Iqbal Ansari, the litigant for whom Sibal is appearing, said he too had no idea that Sibal would seek deferment of the hearing. But Ansari said he had no objection to what Sibal said. “Lawyers check technical things. Sibal found some shortcoming. Hence, he made the appeal,” he said.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, in a statement, said a stand was taken by lawyers representing Muslim parties “on instruction of their respective clients” that “it was not the right time to take up the matter for final hearing” and “the Board endorses and confirms” it.

The AIMPLB “expects political statements not to be made by parties, as we have heard since yesterday in relation to court proceedings”. Shakeel Syed, one of the two Advocates-on-Record for the Sunni Wakf Board, told The Indian Express: “First of all, we have no senior counsel, so Kapil Sibal is not our counsel. The order of the Supreme Court starts making it clear that Kapil Sibal is Iqbal Ansari’s lawyer. Also, in the office report prepared by the registry in the Supreme Court, it has been made clear that the appeal has not been serviced to all, so the matter is not ready. How are arguments possible if the pleadings are not there? Unless appeals are ready, it cannot be heard.”

“Haji Mehboob is not a member of the Sunni Wakf Board, so he cannot speak on their behalf. He is there in his own capacity.” Shakeel Syed said. The Sunni Wakf Board has two appeals, with an Advocate-on-Record for each — the other being Syed Shahid Husain Rizvi. After his father’s death, Haji Mehboob replaced him as one of the defendants.

In Gujarat, addressing a poll rally in Dahod, Prime Minister Modi said: “I want to thank you, Sunni Wakf Board, for saying that Kapil Sibal’s request for deferral of Ayodhya land dispute case till 2019 election is wrong. I want to thank them because they have come forward for the unity of the nation… Congress people should stop creating obstacles” in finding a solution to the issue.

In Dhandhuka, Modi told a gathering: “Is everything to be decided with election as basis? Or should the welfare of the country get priority? Yesterday, you must have seen Congress MP and lawyer Kapil Sibal. He appears for the Muslim community. It is his right and we do not have any complaint with that. He tries advocacy to save the Babri Masjid. It is his right and we do not have a problem with that. It’s a rule of Indian judiciary that you present your case in detail.”

“But you dare to say that hearing of the case should not happen until 2019 because there are elections to Lok Sabha in 2019. Brothers and sisters, should we keep an issue such as Ram Mandir pending in the name of elections? Now, I have understood how they (Congress) have made such a mess of the country. They have committed the sin of keeping important issues unresolved as per their electoral calculations,” he said.

“Is the Wakf Board going to fight elections? Congress leaders are saying that these are Kapil Sibal’s personal thoughts. Are the thoughts of fighting elections that of the Wakf Board? Congress is fighting the elections. Should we keep in mind the welfare of India or the political advantage, disadvantage to the Congress if the Supreme Court decides on Ram Mandir,” Modi said.

Reached for comments, Sibal sought to de-link his roles as a professional lawyer and a Congress politician. “First of all, I am a professional. I represented Iqbal Ansari,” he said.

On his request to defer the hearing till July 2019, he said: “People of the country know what the BJP stands for. The Prime Minister just proved it today. My plea was that there should be no divisive politics in India.” “Congress doesn’t want to divide this country. Mr Modi has forgotten his development agenda, his promise of giving employment to people… He has no principles in politics… has no idea what this nation desires at this point, what the youth is craving for, what this country needs. His only concern is how he should retain power,” Sibal said.

On the Prime Minister’s remark that the Congress wants to keep the issue unresolved for political gains and losses in elections, he said: “Congress doesn’t want gadar (mayhem) in this country. Congress wants unity in this country. Congress wants the country to progress and develop. Congress wants people to get employment, farmers to get cost plus 50 per cent, Congress wants exports to increase, Congress wants GDP to be 8 per cent. That is what the Congress wants.”

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On December 6, 1992 a large crowd numbering in thousands thronged around the Babri Masjid in modern day Ayodhya. As a police force of around 20,000 looked on, the crowd fell upon the mosque with sickles, axes, shovels and bare hands in the midst of militant slogans. The demolition of the Babri Masjid that immediately led to communal riots breaking out all across India would soon go on to determine the course of Indian politics for the next twenty-five years.

But for almost a decade before the mosque was demolished, Ayodhya had become a site of intense debate regarding what should be considered the truest history of the place. The radical Hindu Right led by the VHP, BJP, RSS and Shiv Sena laid out two firm claims to the site of Ayodhya; first that it was the sacred spot of the birth of Lord Ram and second that a temple dedicated to Ram had been demolished in order to build the Babri Masjid in the sixteenth century under the commands of Mughal Emperor Babur. Ayodhya’s history from the point of view of the Hindu fundamentalists became the basis for calling for the demolition of the mosque and construction of a temple dedicated to Ram in its place. The Right wing’s interpretation of Ayodhya’s history was soon contradicted by Left wing historians, who were of the opinion that the fundamentalist understanding of the history of Ayodhya was incorrect, politically motivated and dangerous for the future of the country’s secularism.

Ayodhya’s history from the Right

From the mid 1980s on, there emerged a trend of promoting a new history of Ayodhya. This new way of history writing, made its appearance in places in and around Lucknow, Allahabad and other areas producing Hindi literature. As noted by historian Gyanendra Pandey, “the right-wing Hindu movement had done all it can to promote an alternative account of the history of Ayodhya and its association with Ram.” Further, both historians Vinay Lal and Pandey noted that this new history of Ayodhya as seen by the radical right was put across in a way that made it appear as the real and incontrovertible truth about the region.

Pratap Narain Mishra’s “Kya kahati hain saryu dhara? Sri Ramjanmabhumi ki kahani (What says the river Saryu? The story of Ramjanmabhoomi),” which appeared in 1985 was the first work of its kind that appealed on the basis of historical evidence that Ayodhya was indeed the birthplace of Lord Ram. Examples of other such works include “Shri Ram janmabhumi sachitra, pramanik itihasa (An illustrated and authoritative history of Shri Ram janmabhoomi),” Shri Ram janmabhoomi ka pramanik itihasa (The authoritative and authentic history of Shri Ram janmabhoomi), and Mukti yagya, Shri Ram janmabhoomi ka sampurna itihasa (Sacrifice for liberation, The entire history of Shri Ram janmabhoomi).

All these works, and several others mostly published in the “Organiser”, the organ of the RSS, said with firm conviction that a temple dedicated to Lord Ram existed at the very site where the deity was born and that it had been demolished by the local Mughal authorities to build a mosque. Further, as Gyanendra Pandey notes, “all of it comes to be represented in a ‘scientific’ precision- of numbers, of dates, of geographical location- testifying to the literal truth of this ‘history’.”

Chronologically, the history of Ayodhya as explained by these works begins with the birth of Ram 9,00,000 years back, followed by years of Greek and Kushana rule ending in the liberation of Ramjanmabhoomi. Then, in the sixteenth century under Babar’s reign, the temple dedicated to Ram at his birth site is known to be destroyed and a mosque constructed in its place. The history of Ayodhya ends in 1986, as per the history writers, with the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid. “Through the many recensions of the Hindu history of Ayodhya, it is the story of ‘foreign’ aggression and native valour, of eternal Hindu activism and sacrifice,” writes Pandey.

In terms of archaeological evidence to prove the existence of a Ram temple at the site of the Babri masjid, archaeologist B.B. Lal came out with his report in the end of 1990 to claim that certain brick bases he had excavated in the 1970s supposedly pointed to the existence of a temple like structure in the south of the Babri masjid. It is worthy to note that when Lal had come out with his report in the 1970s, there was no mention of any such possibility.

Ayodhya’s history from the Left

Responding to the Hindu fundamentalists’, historian S. Gopal along with 20 other scholars from the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) brought out a pamphlet titled, “The political abuse of history: Babri Masjid- Rama Janmabhumi debate.” “When communal forces make claims to ‘historical evidence’ for the purposes of communal politics, then the historian has to intervene,” said the historians in the pamphlet. Soon after another report titled, “Ramjanmabhumi Baburi Masjid- a historian’s report to the nation,” was published by four other scholars, each of whom corroborated with the previous pamphlet. In the ensuing years, a number of other scholars came out with works opposing the Hindu fundamentalist approach to Ayodhya’s history.

As per the view from the Left, the Ayodhya as mentioned in the Ramayana and present day Ayodhya is not the same place. Going by the dates mentioned in Valmiki’s Ramayana, the time period at which Ram is supposed to have been born is much before period when present day Ayodhya came to be inhabited for the first time. Accordingly, the earliest settlements in Ayodhya can be traced back to 8th century BC. Further, present day Ayodhya, as per this group of historians, was previously known as Saketa and the name change happened under the Gupta kings who were trying to derive authority from the text of the Ramayana.

Further, they stated that as per archaeological evidence, the site of Ayodhya was considered sacred by several other religious communities, including the Jains and the Buddhists. The place acquired popularity among the worshippers of Ram only from the thirteenth century and it is only from the eighteenth century that temples dedicated to Ram started getting built in the place.

Further, as Vinay Lal noted in his work, excavations at Ayodhya had yielded Islamic glazed ware pottery pieces, that can be dated to a period between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. “The archaeological evidence, in other words, indicates not a temple but rather the distinct possibility of a Muslim settlement at or in the proximity of the mosque from the thirteenth century onwards,” wrote Lal.

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Rahul Gandhi who is set to take over as the Congress president faces the challenge of reviving and rebuilding the party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. (Catch LIVE updates here)

To execute his long-term plan, the 47-year-old’s first task will be a revamp of the party. Congress leaders suggest he would go for an overhaul, completing a generational shift in the 131-year-old party brought about by his elevation.

His mother, Sonia Gandhi, who took over as the party in March 1998, has served as the Congress chief for record 19 years.

He will have to ensure that the transition is smooth by striking a right balance between young leaders and the old guard, which in the past had some reservations about his style of functioning.

In his four years as the Congress vice-president, Gandhi had tried to open the party to end the heirloom politics but didn’t make much headway.

As party chief, the Amethi MP would have the authority to bring about the changes. His training in Aikido – Gandhi has a black belt in the Japanese martial that lays emphasis on harmony – will come in handy.

He also has to lead from the front to galvanise an otherwise demoralised Congress cadre struggling to recover after a series of electoral setbacks.

Gandhi has long had the reputation of a reluctant leader, though some analysts say he has displayed greater political acumen since the 2014 election defeat.

A good show in Gujarat, where he is leading an aggressive campaign and has attempted a broad coalition of disparate caste groups, will not only give him a good start but also silence his detractors within the party.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state votes on December 9 and 14.

Next year, too, will test him. Retaining Karnataka and dethroning the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan will be a daunting task for him and the party before the big one — the 2019 general elections.

The Congress’ national fortunes hinge on its revival in states but intense infighting coupled with indecisiveness to address the leadership issues is coming in the way of the revival push.

The party desperately needs to get its house in order in key states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal, where it has ceded political space to rivals.

Reconnecting with the middle class, youth and common people who over the years have grown distant from the Congress has been on Gandhi’s agenda for a long time.

He has less than two years to make the Congress fighting fit to corner the BJP-led NDA government on critical issues and present it as in effective alternative.

With around 16 months left for the next Lok Sabha election, he will have to decide on alliances partners to prevent a division of the opposition vote that could help the BJP.

Stitching up alliances perhaps is his second biggest challenge after reviving the party.

Sonia Gandhi enjoys a good rapport with other opposition parties. Crediting her with bringing together the United Progressive Alliance, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury described the 70-year-old Sonia as the “glue” that bound the Congress as well as secular allies.

Rahul Gandhi will have to be the Congress president, the “glue” and more.

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PM narendra modi public meeting out side SGVP hospital in Ahmedabad on Sunday…express photo javed raja
3-12-2017

Days after Gandhinagar Archbishop Thomas Macwan warned against “nationalist forces” and urged Christians to pray for the victory of those who “respect every human being”, Prime MinisterNarendra Modi said on Sunday that “manavata” (humanity) was the “sanskaar” (values) of “rashtravaadee” (nationalists), and cited instances of how his government had rescued people of other faiths,including Christians.

“Manavata apni rago ma chhe, apna sanskaar ma chhe (Humanity is in our veins, in our values). Unfortunately, it comes so naturally to us that we do not publicise it, and the world remains in the dark (about it)… I was shocked when a religious person issued a fatwa asking for rashtrapremio (patriots) to be ousted,” said Modi, addressing a public meeting after dedicating a Swaminarayan Gurukul Vishvavidya Pratisthanam (SGVP) hospital, on the Sarkhej-Gandhinagar highway in Ahmedabad.

While he did not name Macwan, Modi added: “To help people without considering their religion, caste or nationality is the basic essence of our sanskaar… and there cannot be a more worrisome matter than this, that people have objection to it.”

Modi then cited the examples of Nepal and Yemen, saying Indian agencies rescued a number of foreign nationals along with Indians. He also mentioned External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s efforts in granting visas to those in need in Pakistan. “These are matters related to humanity. Today, some people have challenged our humanity. Therefore, I want to say this to the people of India, from this pious land,” he said.

Modi also listed seven instances when his government rescued Indian citizens, including Christians, abroad. He cited the case of Indian nurses in Iraq. “We took help and got them back safely,” he said. He also mentioned the cases of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was rescued from Yemen, Father Alexis Prem Kumar, who was rescued from Afghanistan, and Judith D’Souza, who was also rescued from Afghanistan, pointing out that they were all Christians and children of India.

He said his government had also negotiated the release of five people from Tamil Nadu who had been handed the death sentence in Sri Lanka, and about 3,400 Indian fishermen in the jails of Pakistan and Sri Lanka. “All this was possible because of rashtrabhakti (patriotism)… We are following the principles of Sarvajan Hitay, Sarvajan Sukhay, Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas,” he said.

In an official communique dated November 21, Archbishop Thomas Macwan had urged churches in Gujarat to hold prayers for election of those “who would remain faithful to our Indian Constitution and respect every human being without any discrimination”. Stating that “the secular and democratic fabric of our country is at stake”, he had said, “Human rights are being violated. The constitutional rights are being trampled. Not a single day goes without an attack on our churches, church personnel, faithful or institutions. There is a growing sense of insecurity among the minorities, OBCs, BCs, poor and so on. Nationalist forces are on the verge of taking over the country. The election results of Gujarat state assembly can make a difference.”