As India’s election get into final lap, Rahul Gandhi stands tall

May 7th, 2009 - 3:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Rahul Gandhi By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, May 7 (IANS) As millions voted Thursday in the fourth round of the Lok Sabha election, one person who has captured the imagination of the nation is Rahul Gandhi, the 38-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family who the Congress has projected as a future prime minister of India.

Youthful, handsome and not afraid to speak his mind, India’s most eligible bachelor is also the rising star of the country’s topsy-turvy politics. His admirers say he has the right leadership qualities that mark him out as the leader of the future.

His critics call him brash, out of touch with the country’s ground realities, his only virtue being the member of India’s most well known political family that has given the country three prime ministers.

Gandhi is making waves while campaigning non-stop across the country, outshining even his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. And also Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a Gandhi family loyalist who has stated more than once that Rahul Gandhi would make a good prime minister some day - of a country the young man’s father, grandmother and great grandfather have ruled.

Even for someone who has become the poster boy of the Congress, at ease in both English and Hindi, Rahul Gandhi stole the thunder this week by outlining his party’s post-election strategy at a press conference he conducted at the capital’s Ashok Hotel.

In just about an hour, he made it clear that the Congress would never compromise on Manmohan Singh and the controversial India-US nuclear deal come what may, asked the Left to back the Congress again, and went on to praise a chief minister and a former chief minister from the opposition ranks, embarrassing his own party and two allied parties.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) strategist Arun Jaitley promptly dubbed him immature. Political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan, however, said Gandhi had proved himself to be a “long distance runner” in Indian politics.

The quiet though not shy Rahul who entered politics in 2004 has slowly but surely eclipsed his more popular younger sister Priyanka, displaying an aggression missing earlier. In this election, he has spewed fire at the BJP and its Hindutva ideology and not hesitated to take on powerful regional chieftains like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.

He won his first election to the Lok Sabha by a whopping victory margin from Amethi, the largely rural constituency in Uttar Pradesh first represented by his uncle Sanjay Gandhi and then his father Rajiv Gandhi and mother Sonia, who shifted to the adjoining family bastion Rae Bareli.

Only two years ago, Rahul Gandhi had shockingly claimed that it was his family that broke up Pakistan in 1971 - a comment that drew anger in Islamabad. He also went on to say that the Babri mosque would not have been destroyed if a Gandhi had been prime minister in 1992.

The combativeness and brazenness come naturally to one who is a rifle shooter and is born into a family that has too many violent deaths, a la the Kennedy clan.

His great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s first prime minister - for 17 long years. His grandmother Indira Gandhi ruled the country in two spells for 16 years. His father Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister for five tumultuous years. Rajiv was on the verge of returning to power when a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber blew him up in 1991.

Rahul Gandhi was just 14 years old when two bodyguards gunned down Indira Gandhi. And when his father died a grotesque death, he was only 20. He would later say that he could have taken to politics then but knew he had nothing much to offer to his country.

So Rahul Gandhi, who was schooled in New Delhi, went on to pursue his higher education in Britain and the US, joined a consultancy firm before giving it up to take to full-time politics. In no time he became a Congress general secretary and made in charge of its once vibrant student and youth wings.

Not everyone in the traditional Congress likes Rahul Gandhi’s reliance on computers and a close set of friends, including some formerly from the corporate world. But even his critics admit he is a quick learner - and is becoming a better and better speaker.

So will he become prime minister one day? Not now, he answered recently, as if he knew that destiny was on his side. Congress leaders admit that if the party gets to rule for five more years, the young Gandhi will surely replace Manmohan Singh.

There is no doubt that Rahul Gandhi will win again from Amethi, and handsomely. And no one has any doubts that he will go a long way in politics.

So, when will he settle down in his personal life?

Rahul Gandhi is not reticent. He says he had a Spanish architect girlfriend whom he met in England. But she has been superseded by his new love for politics.

“I am not sure when I will be settling down,” he said once in Amethi. When he marries, won’t he break many hearts? Gandhi answered with a disarming smile: “I hope not a lot of hearts. You cannot make everyone happy.”

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