Bloomberg News

Congress Plans Rahul Gandhi Leadership Role as India Polls Loom

November 09, 2011

Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Rahul Gandhi, scion of a dynasty that has given India three prime ministers, will take on greater responsibility running India’s ruling Congress party, one of its general secretaries, Janardan Dwivedi, said.

Gandhi, whose family has ruled India for 38 of the 64 years since independence from British colonial rule, was among four party leaders charged with temporarily looking after Congress affairs while Sonia Gandhi, party president, had surgery overseas for an undisclosed medical condition in August. The Economic Times reported Nov. 5 that Rahul will be made president of Congress in the next few weeks, fueling speculation he may soon permanently take over the reins.

“He has a role and that has been increasing constantly,” Dwivedi told reporters late yesterday. “In the natural course, his role will go on increasing. This is what Congressmen want.” Dwivedi said it was “mere speculation” that Rahul, 41, will be appointed president of the party soon.

Tipped by political analysts as India’s next prime minister if Congress wins the general election scheduled to be held in 2014, Rahul has been tasked with reviving the party’s support ahead of polls in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, due early next year. Congress has been damaged by a series of corruption allegations against the coalition government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with one Nielsen Holdings AV opinion poll suggesting its popularity may have fallen by a third in urban areas.

Gandhi in 2009 declined public appeals by Congress leaders to take a cabinet position in Singh’s government, saying he wanted to focus on building and democratizing the party’s youth wing.

‘Groomed’ to Lead

“It is an absolute certainty that he will be the next leader of Congress, it is just a matter of when,” said D.H. Pai Panandiker, president of RPG Foundation, a New Delhi-based research group. “He is from the right family and has been groomed for the prime minister’s job in the last few years.”

Sonia Gandhi, who has headed Congress since 1998, would restrict her role to providing broad direction to the party and the government, the Economic Times said in its Nov. 5 report, citing party leaders it didn’t name. Sonia Gandhi cancelled plans to address her first rally since receiving medical treatment, which Indian newspapers have reported was for cancer and took place in the U.S., after contracting a fever, the CNN- IBN television channel said.

Gandhi traveled overseas on the advice of her doctors after being diagnosed with a medical condition that required surgery, the party said in August without giving further details.

Poor Indians

The Italian-born Sonia unexpectedly turned down the position of prime minister after leading Congress and its allies to victory in the 2004 elections, amid concerns her ancestry would be attacked by Hindu nationalist opponents. She instead selected Singh to lead the country while staying as Congress president.

As head of the country’s National Advisory Council, a body that advises on planned legislation, Gandhi has focused on health policies, job creation and expanding the scope of subsidized food programs for the more than 800 million Indians the World Bank says live on less than $2 a day. Rahul Gandhi has been championing the rights of the poor, leading moves for greater compensation when land is acquired for industry.

Three of Rahul Gandhi’s ancestors -- Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and his father Rajiv Gandhi -- have ruled India as prime minister. His grandmother and father were both assassinated.

--With assistance from Abhijit Roy Chowdhury in New Delhi. Editors: Mark Williams, Sam Nagarajan

To contact the reporters on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net; Andrew Macaskill in New Delhi at amacaskill@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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