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Rahul Gandhi set to take over as Congress party chief

November 21, 2017
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi (centre), vice president Rahul Gandhi (left) and former prime minister Manmohan Singh (right) look on during a meeting of the  party’s working committee on Monday.—AFP
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi (centre), vice president Rahul Gandhi (left) and former prime minister Manmohan Singh (right) look on during a meeting of the party’s working committee on Monday.—AFP

NEW DELHI: India’s opposition Congress party will hold leadership elections next month, an official said on Monday, amid growing speculation Rahul Gandhi will take over from his mother as its leader.

Rahul, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather all served as prime minister, was the centre-left party’s front man in the last general election.

But his 70-year-old mother Sonia remains its president and still calls the shots.

She has not publicly announced a decision to stand down as Congress president, but party official Mullappally Ramachandran said after a meeting of senior leaders on Monday that an election would be held next month.

The announcement followed months of speculation that the 47-year-old scion of the Gandhi dynasty would soon take over from his mother. Party sources said he would likely stand unopposed for the role.

Rahul Gandhi was elected vice-president of the Congress party in 2013 and has long been his mother’s presumed successor.

He was strongly criticised for a lacklustre campaign for the 2014 general election, in which Congress recorded its worst ever showing and lost power to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

But few inside the party, which has since suffered a series of state election defeats, have been willing to publicly criticise the family that has been at its helm for generations.

Rasheed Kidwai, a political journalist and author of a book on Sonia Gandhi, said Rahul’s promotion was now a “foregone conclusion”, warning he would be under huge pressure to turn the party’s fortunes around.

“In the party’s history, no Gandhi has failed to win elections and get results,” Kidwai said. “Rahul is yet to pass that test.” Kidwai said Rahul was more “temperamental and impulsive” than his Italian-born mother, widow of the assassinated former premier Rajiv Gandhi, and would be taking over at a challenging time for the party.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2017