'It's like Indira's come back': Sister of Indian opposition chief makes debut

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the popular sister of the head of India’s main opposition Congress party, made her political debut on Monday with a roadshow drawing thousands in the most populous state months before a general election due by May.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi pulled a surprise last month by appointing his younger sister a party general secretary. She will also be its face in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the highest number of lawmakers to the lower house of parliament and is currently dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

But a string of BJP defeats in state elections late last year and rising discontent over a weak farm economy and lackluster jobs growth have weakened Modi’s position, which an increasingly aggressive Congress is looking to capitalize on.

The 47-year-old Priyanka – she is usually referred to by just her first name – bears a striking resemblance to her grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and is known for her gifts as a speaker able to connect with voters. Congress hopes that the eyeballs she’s able to generate will turn into votes.

“It’s like Indira Gandhi has come back,” said Fuzail Ahmed Khan, 45, a Congress supporter. “The state’s farmers want Rahul Gandhi to be prime minister, Priyanka to be chief minister.”

Indira Gandhi, India’s only woman prime minister known as the “Iron Lady”, was criticized for suspending civil liberties for nearly two years starting in 1975.

Posters of Priyanka lined the streets of the state capital, Lucknow, and hundreds of Congress supporters, accompanied by drummers, chanted her name after she emerged from the airport with her brother.

The siblings later waved at supporters from atop a bus as it slowly made its way out of the airport for the 12-mile roadshow.

Congress officials hope Priyanka’s entry into politics will improve its chances across Uttar Pradesh, a vast agrarian state of 220 million people that the BJP nearly swept in the last general election in 2014, winning 73 of the 80 seats there.

Although Priyanka has helped manage elections for her brother and her mother, former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, she has never held an official party post until now.

“I hope that we can together start a new kind of politics,” she said in an audio message shared by Congress.

Since the announcement of Priyanka’s entry into politics, India’s financial crime-fighting agency Enforcement Directorate has questioned her husband, Robert Vadra, for several hours in a case relating to alleged ownership of 1.9 million pounds ($2.45 million) of undisclosed assets abroad. His lawyer and Congress have dismissed the charges as politically motivated.

Priyanka, who drew more than 42,000 followers soon after joining Twitter on Monday, will spend three days in Lucknow meeting workers from more than 40 constituencies.

Described by Congress officials as a gifted orator and a strong manager, Priyanka has been entrusted with resuscitating the party’s organization in the state, where it has endured a succession of crushing results.

From 21 seats in the 2009 general election in Uttar Pradesh, Congress’ tally fell to just 2 in 2014.

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Arab League tells Brazil's Bolsonaro Israel embassy move could harm ties

BRASILIA (Reuters) – The Arab League has told Brazil’s right-wing President-elect Jair Bolsonaro that moving Brazil’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would be a setback for relations with Arab countries, in a letter seen by Reuters on Monday.

Such a move by Bolsonaro, who takes office on Jan. 1, would be a sharp shift in Brazilian foreign policy, which has traditionally backed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ambassadors from Arab nations are expected to meet in Brasilia on Tuesday to discuss Bolsonaro’s plan to follow U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to recognize Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, according to the Arab diplomat who asked not to be named.

The letter to Bolsonaro from the league’s Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and delivered to Brazil’s foreign ministry said the decision on where to locate an embassy was the sovereign decision of any country.

“However, the situation of Israel is not normal, seeing that it is a country that has been occupying Palestinian territories by force – among them East Jerusalem,” the letter said.

Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would be considered a violation of international law and the United National Security Council resolutions, Aboul Gheit said.

The embassy move has been praised as “historic” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who plans to attend Bolsonaro’s presidential inauguration, according to the Brazilian’s transition team.

“The Arab world has much respect for Brazil and we want not just to maintain relations but improve and diversify them. But the intention of moving the embassy to Jerusalem could harm them,” the diplomat said.

Brazil is one of the world’s top halal meat exporters and that trade could run into trouble if Bolsonaro angers Arab nations by moving the embassy. That could hurt exports to key Middle Eastern markets for Brazilian beef and poultry producers BRF SA and JBS SA.

Halal meat is butchered and prepared as prescribed by Muslim law.

The meat exporters lobby has pressed the incoming president not to move the embassy, and he appeared to change his mind.

But the president-elect’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, speaking after recently visiting Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner at the White House, said the embassy move was “not a question of if, but of when.”

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