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India's Congress party vice president, Rahul Gandhi
Image: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

Rahul Gandhi's dilemma

Roma Rajpal Weiß
January 20, 2014

India's ruling Congress party has given Rahul Gandhi the task to lead the campaign for the upcoming elections. But does the Gandhi dynasty's scion has what it takes to revive the beleaguered party?


The government of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been hit by a series of corruption scandals in the past two years, which has severely damaged the popularity his Indian National Congress party. Analysts say Congress' chances to win the general elections in the coming months are quite low.

Last month, the Congress faced a debacle in the recent Delhi state elections. In other states, it was defeated by the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is cashing in on the rising anti-government sentiment.

The Congress' supporters believe that only one person can turn the fortunes of the party. His name is Rahul Gandhi, the son of the Congress's president, Sonia Gandhi.

Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man's Party, leader Arvind Kejriwal greets supporters during a public meeting in New Delhi, India, Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Some experts say the anti-corruption movement in India is anti-democratic and short-sightedImage: Reuters

The Gandhis are one of the most influential political dynasties in the South Asian nation. Rahul's father Rajiv Gandhi, his grandmother Indira Gandhi, and great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru were all prime ministers of India.

Rahul joined politics in 2004 and became a member of parliament after winning the seat for Amethi town in the northern Uttar Pradesh state.

A reluctant politician

Rahul has been critiziced for what analysts regard as his reluctance to lead the Congress party. Pradip Datta, a political scientist at the University of Delhi, says Rahul knows that he will eventually lead the Congress, but is deliberately using the image of a reluctant politician.

"Rahul, in a way, wants to show his aloofness to the corrupt world of politics, which, to a large extent, is identified with his own party," Datta told DW. The expert also says that the 43-year-old has so far failed to prove that he is charismatic enough to mobilize the masses.

But as parliamentary elections draw closer, it will be difficult for Rahul to not take the reins of his party. And it seems that the Congress is aware of Rahul's importance in the upcoming elections.

Sonia Gandhi recently announced that her son will lead the Congress's election campaign, however, she fell short of announcing Rahul's name as candidate for the post of prime minister.

Jatin Gandhi, the deputy Editor of the India Today magazine, believes Rahul is the victim of his own image.

"Rahul realizes that the mood in India is against dynastical politics. He has been talking against it for the past ten years. Unfortunately, he has not been very successful in altering his image," Gandhi told DW.

Challenges ahead

Aarthi Ramachandran, author of "Decoding Rahul Gandhi" believes it is time for the Congress' politician to send a clear message that he is capable of leading the party and will form an effective and corruption-free government if they vote for him.

"He also needs to convey to Indians that he will be different from the current Congress leadership in New Delhi," Ramachandran said. The author, however, fears that it won't be easy for him because he is seen as a key figure in the present government."

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi enjoying a kite fly at the Inauguration function of the International Kite Festival-2014 at Sabarmati River Front in Ahmedabad
Modi is controversial among Muslims for his alleged involvement in the 2002 Guajrat massacreImage: UNI

Also, Rahul faces tough competition from two politicians: Narendra Modi of the BJP and Arvind Kejriwal of the Common Man's party.

Kejriwal is now chief minister of Delhi after ending Congress' Sheila Dikshit's 15-year-rule in the state. Political commentators say the new party has given Indian voters an alternative in general elections.

On the other hand, the Hindu nationalist BJP's leader Narendra Modi is already considered favorite to win the elections. The chief minister of Gujarat is credited for the rapid economic growth in his state.

Experts believe that it won't be easy for the young Gandhi to revive the Congress party and change people's perceptions about it.

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