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2 January 2017 Editorial



Split wide open

 What began as a family feud is now a fight for the very soul of the Samajwadi Party. If power and position were all that mattered, SP supremo Mulayam Singh might have been able to more evenly distribute the loaves of office and quickly end the crisis engulfing his party. But his son Akhilesh Yadav has now taken the fight to another plane, debunking the old guard and projecting his own actions as those taken in the interest of the larger public good. This time the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister's revolt is directed at the very manner in which the SP is being run and, by implication, he is challenging what he perceives as the subversion of the party's founding values. But if he is going to ‘liberate' the SP from the feudal old guard, he will need to do much more. When Akhilesh Yadav objected to the party leadership's proposal for the merger with the SP of the Quami Ekta Dal, led by the gangster-politician Mukhtar Ansari, he was not questioning the mobilisation of votes on communal lines but the building of support blocks at the risk of being perceived as a party that is soft on crime. Similarly, his opposition to the re-entry of Amar Singh into the party was not - as it arguably should have been - an attempt to delink the SP from the perils of corporate funding, but an effort to distance it from seeming to be close to wheeler-dealers. On both occasions his interventions seemed little more than a part of an image-building exercise.

Akhilesh Yadav may have become the new, urbane face of the party, at the head of a generation of technology-savvy youth that speaks the language of progress and development. But he has so far not been able to change it in any substantive way. The Chief Minister knows he cannot do without the SP's organisational structures in an Assembly election, just months away. But he also seems to have realised that he could not possibly benefit from the brand of brash politics characterised by his father and uncle Shivpal Yadav without being tainted by it. By striking out on his own, Akhilesh Yadav is now hoping he would gain acceptance beyond the traditional vote banks of the SP. But the intra-party quarrels are unlikely to have inspired confidence among the public of the SP's ability to provide stability and good governance. Yadav Jr will be judged not on how he distanced himself from the lathi-wielding criminal elements of the SP, but on how he maintained law and order. Similarly, not on how he managed the SP's leadership, but on how he governed for five years. After all, in the Assembly poll, he will be fighting against the BJP's Narendra Modi and the BSP's Mayawati, not his father and uncle.

Obama's parting shot at Russia

President Barack Obama's decision to slap more sanctions on Russia and sack 35 diplomats from the U.S. is the latest flashpoint in the bilateral relations of the former Cold War foes. Though the immediate trigger for Mr. Obama's action are the cyberattacks on Democratic Party systems, which U.S. intelligence agencies believe were carried out by Russians to influence the results of the presidential election, the action must be seen against the deteriorating relationship between the two countries. Ironically, Russia-U.S. relations have hit the lowest point since the collapse of the Soviet Union under a president who had promised a "reset" of ties. At home Mr. Obama faces criticism for not acting decisively against Russian interventions that go against American interests. The sanctions the U.S. and its European allies have imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea had little impact on Moscow's foreign policy decisions. In Syria, Russia made a military intervention to boost the regime of Bashar al-Assad against armed rebels who had U.S. support. Mr. Obama remained largely a spectator when Russia reshaped the Syrian conflict, first through a brutal military campaign and then through multilateral diplomacy. Ties plunged to a new low with the allegations of hacking into the Democratic Party systems. By taking the toughest actions yet against Russia in his final weeks in office, Mr. Obama may be trying to mute criticism of his Russia policy.

But Mr. Obama's policy will have long-term implications for U.S.-Russia ties. The rising tensions have reignited fears of a new Cold War. Though today's Russia doesn't have the economic resources of the Soviet Union, its actions in Syria and Ukraine show that Moscow is not afraid of upping the ante in a "unipolar" world. Second, Mr. Obama is further complicating matters of foreign policy for his successor. Given that President-elect Donald Trump had promised during the campaign to have better relations with Russia and closer coordination in the fight against the Islamic State, Mr. Obama's last-minute intervention is being interpreted as an attempt to tie Mr. Trump's hands. The Washington establishment is also happy with the President's decisions. For now, Mr. Putin has deftly avoided a tit-for-tat response, saying that Moscow will assess the policies of the next administration. The question is, what will Mr. Trump do? If he goes completely against the Obama administration's policies, he will upset the establishment, including leaders from his own party. If he doesn't, he will fail on his promise of reshaping ties with Russia and potentially raise tensions further. Either way, Russia is back as a top challenge on the U.S. foreign policy landscape.



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