Geopolitics

Indian Elections: Gandhi Siblings v. Mister Modi

The full plunge of Priyanka Gandhi into Indian politics, alongside brother Rahul, is a whole new challenge for President Narendra Modi ahead of this spring's general elections.

A 2017 image of Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi paying homage to their assassinated father Rajiv
A 2017 image of Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi paying homage to their assassinated father Rajiv
Sushil Aaron

NEW DELHI — Two years ago, Narendra Modi would have imagined a very different 2019 election campaign awaiting him.

He would have expected his dominance on the national stage to continue until the start of the year, ahead of the spring general elections. He would have foreseen his chief ally, BJP party leader Amit Shah, operating machine politics with the granular grasp of India's demography to inexorably drive Modi to a second term in power. The cloying and pliable section of the media would be egging him on, the opposition would be in disarray and corporate figures would not have the nerve to envisage a government without him, and plan accordingly.

Every element of that rosy scenario has now come unstuck for Modi. The opposition is organizing and swiftly tapping into the disaffection with his government. Rahul Gandhi has come into his own over the last year and has got the better of Modi in just about every measure of political combat. He has won three major state elections, his social media engagement levels are way ahead of Modi despite the latter's larger following. More importantly, Rahul Gandhi has set the pace in political rhetoric through speeches, one-liners and tweets. Modi is, meanwhile, grasping for a story to tell — promised jobs have not materialized, rural India is seething and the country is exhausted with the slash and burn mode of governance that has come to typify BJP rule.

And now Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has stepped with two feet into politics, further complicating matters for Modi. With just 100 days until the elections, choreography matters. Priyanka will, alongside her older brother Rahul, suck up some oxygen of publicity and attention that Modi has come to take for granted.

Worse, she comes in at a time when he's already overexposed and bereft of new tricks. He and the BJP have tried everything to establish dominance: an upper caste quota, demonetization, selfies with celebrities, attacks on Muslims, media, activists and students. His ability to surprise is fading. The opposition is uniting, there's no money in the treasury to buy off voters, conflict with Pakistan is not imminent — and will be expensive. Modi's act remains the same; India is moving on.

Rahul Gandhi has virtually been handling everything himself.

All that is left to fight for is political combat itself, which the BJP is good at through its polarizing tactics. Priyanka potentially adds a new dynamic to this. While the BJP continues with its unsavory, hateful rhetoric, Rahul will try and extend in the public's mind the decency gap that he has established between himself and the Modi-Shah duo, while Priyanka, in theory, gets into the more dramatic cut and thrust of politics. The Gandhis will now hunt in pairs in a media environment that is no longer entirely in Modi's control.

There will also be a measure of burden sharing. Rahul Gandhi has virtually been handling everything himself — rebuilding his brand, generating momentum for criticism of last year's Rafale fighter jet deal and responding to criticism from Amit Shah and company. No other Congress heavyweight or regional party leader has confronted Modi with the regularity or impact that Rahul has — or been the singular focus of their backlash. Priyanka has now stepped in to take on Modi, Shah and the others. All this will make for great theater for the middle class and galvanize the Congress party more broadly.

The BJP will hope that the novelty of the news passes quickly so it can normalize Priyanka and represent her as just another Indian politician with a dynastic name. This won't be easy. A hundred days are not enough. Besides, she has presence, communicates well in both English and Hindi and, being skeptical of the media, will likely deal with it on her terms.

It's worth noting how astutely Rahul and the Congress set up her entry into politics. The party waited for Rahul's political identity to develop, to consolidate his habit of cultivating audiences at home and abroad, for him to win three state elections on his own — so there is no hint that Priyanka made the difference (nor rumors emerge of brother-sister factions in the party).

Priyanka Gandhi's foray into politics seems principally about the atmospherics of the election to follow and the ability of that theater to regain the support of groups that the Congress party has lost in recent years. The Congress needs to tread warily in this endeavor, and Rahul and Priyanka have the task of tapping into disenchantment with Modi, without alienating historic allies or handing the BJP easy wins.

Sushil Aaron is a commentator on India's politics and international affairs. He tweets @SushilAaron

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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