Can Rahul Gandhi revive India's Grand Old Party?

  • 11 December 2017
  • From the section India
Rahul Gandhi, Vice-President of India"s main opposition Congress Party, waves to his supporters during a rally ahead of Gujarat state assembly elections, at a village on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India November 11, 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Gandhi has touched a chord with voters with a persuasive campaign in Gujarat

Rahul Gandhi's ascension to the leadership of India's 132-year-old Congress party comes at a time when it is struggling to stay relevant.

Mr Gandhi's appointment was confirmed on Monday, days after he filed his nomination papers for the post. There were no other contenders. He will officially take over on 16 December.

The Congress, the country's largest opposition party, won less than 20% of the popular vote in the seismic 2014 general elections which catapulted Narendra Modi's BJP to power. It secured just 44 - or 8% - of the 543 parliamentary seats in its worst performance ever.

Since then, the Congress has lost elections in half-a-dozen states, and is now in power in only two big states - Karnataka and Punjab - and three other smaller ones. Its prospects in two imminent state elections - Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh - look mixed.

Voters in cities and villages have deserted the party in droves - between 2009 and 2014, the Congress lost more than 9% of the popular vote, bleeding support across castes and minorities. "It is a party bereft of a social constituency of its own," says political scientist Suhas Palshikar.

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The 24-year-old challenging Narendra Modi in his own state

  • 9 December 2017
  • From the section India
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Media captionHardik Patel enjoys massive support among his Patidar community

At a dusty crossroads in small town Gujarat, people are waiting patiently in the winter sun for a man many believe is giving India's powerful Prime Minister Narendra Modi sleepless nights.

Hardik Patel has a mild scowl and a slight stoop. A commerce graduate and son of a businessman, he is utterly middle-class. At 24, he is not even old enough to stand for election under India's rules.

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The crisis facing India's Supreme Court

  • 17 November 2017
  • From the section India
Supreme Court Image copyright Reuters
Image caption India's top court is facing intense scrutiny

India's Supreme Court has been witness recently to some extraordinary developments over the handling of alleged corruption by a retired high court judge.

There have been open differences between its most senior judges over petitions seeking an independent investigation into corruption charges involving a blacklisted medical college.

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Is India's middle class actually poor?

  • 15 November 2017
  • From the section India
Indian pedestrians walk along the roadside in the busy streets of Mumbai, 10 August 2007. The nation of 1.1 billion people -- marking 60 years since the subcontinent was partitioned on 14-15 August 1947 and independence from British rule-- proudly sees itself well on the road to economic, political and social greatness. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A new study says more than 600 million Indians belong to the middle class

Never before in recorded history, wrote author Gurcharan Das, have so many people been in a position to rise so quickly.

He was alluding to the rise of India's "new middle class", full of energy and drive and making things happen in an "uninhibited, pragmatic and amoral fashion". They also comprise an exploding consumer market that McKinsey Global Institute in 2007 described as India's "bird of gold".

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Delhi's air pollution is triggering a health crisis

  • 12 November 2017
  • From the section India
A schoolboy covers his face with a handkerchief as he waits for a passenger bus on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India, November 8, 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Doctors are asking people to wear anti-pollution masks outdoors and many have improvised

Last week, a six-year-old boy returned home from school in Delhi, fidgety and complaining of breathlessness.

"I thought he was joking and trying to avoid school as he's never had a history of respiratory problems," his father told me. Within hours, however, the boy was coughing violently and gasping for breath. The parents put the family in a taxi and drove through the smog to the nearest hospital.

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The man who 'discovered' 780 Indian languages

  • 27 October 2017
  • From the section India
Ganesh Devy Image copyright Anushree Fadnavis/Indus Images
Image caption Ganesh Devy undertook 300 journeys in 18 months to explore India's languages

When Ganesh Devy, a former professor of English, embarked on a search for India's languages, he expected to walk into a graveyard, littered with dead and dying mother tongues.

Instead, he says, he walked into a "dense forest of voices", a noisy Tower of Babel in one of the world's most populous nations.

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The small town film fans challenging India's anthem order

  • 25 October 2017
  • From the section India
Audience members stand for the Indian national anthem before a movie starts at a cinema in New Delhi on December 4, 2016. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Last year the top court ruled that the national anthem be played before every film and that audiences stand

One evening last week, some 200 people gathered on the roof of a shopping centre in a small town in the southern Indian state of Kerala to watch 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a gripping 2007 film on the last days of Communist rule in Romania.

"It was very well received by the audience, as most of our movies are," Anoop Kumaran of the eponymous Kodungallur Film Society, one of Kerala's 60-odd film clubs, told me.

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Is Narendra Modi losing his mojo?

  • 19 October 2017
  • From the section India
Narendra Modi Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption India is in the throes of an economic slowdown and a jobs crisis under Mr Modi's leadership

One of the reasons why Narendra Modi swept to victory with a historic mandate in 2014 was his combative and upbeat oratory. Three years on, the Indian prime minister is beginning to sound unusually defensive.

Many say Mr Modi's characteristic bluster and bombast have begun to wane. In recent speeches, he has described his critics as doomsayers, blamed the previous Congress government for India's economic ills, painted himself as an "outsider" and said he was "willing to drink poison" for the good of the country. Has the victor turned victim?

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India jobs: The signs point to a bleak outlook for employment

  • 6 October 2017
  • From the section India
Indian youth queue at a jobs fair in Mumbai on October 12, 2011. C Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some 26 million Indians are looking for regular work

On the campaign trail in 2013, Narendra Modi told Indians that his party would create 10 million jobs if it came to power.

A year later, his BJP swept to power in Delhi with a resounding majority. This January, India's Economic Survey hinted that things were not going well, and that employment growth was sluggish. New government data shows that the unemployment rate had risen to 5%, up from 4.9% in 2013-14, the year before Mr Modi came to power.

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Are the Rohingya India's 'favourite whipping boy'?

  • 25 September 2017
  • From the section India
A boy from the Rohingya community stands outside a shack in a camp in Delhi, India August 17, 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Rohingya are described as the world's 'most friendless people'

At home in Myanmar, they are unwanted and denied citizenship. Outside, they are largely friendless as well. Now the government says that Rohingya living in India pose a clear and present danger to national security.

First, a government minister kicked up a storm earlier this month when he announced that India would deport its entire Rohingya population, thought to number about 40,000, including some 16,000 who have been registered as refugees by the UN.

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