Power has passed to a fourth generation of India’s most influential political dynasty after the election of Rahul Gandhi as the president of the Indian National Congress.
The scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, which has produced three of India’s prime ministers, including its founding PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, and two who were assassinated in office, was announced as the new leader of India’s chief opposition party on Monday.
Gandhi, 47, has been groomed to lead Congress virtually since birth and faced no challengers for the post occupied for the past 19 years by his mother, Sonia.
But the man derided by political critics as “pappu” – or naive child – faces significant hurdles to lead India, including an ailing Congress party, doubts over his mettle and an opponent who is India’s most formidable prime minister in decades, Narendra Modi.
“His first challenge is to revive the Congress network and get the credibility of the party back,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, an Indian political analyst and author.
The 131-year old Congress party ushered India into independence in 1947 and has ruled the country for most of its history, but sustained a humiliating rout in the 2014 national elections.
Its subsequent loss of major state legislature to the Bharatiya Janata party has led some to conclude the Congress’s ostensibly secular brand of politics has been superseded by Modi’s more populist Hindu nationalism.
Gandhi, who attended Cambridge University and worked as a management consultant before entering parliament in the 2004 elections, will also need to dispel doubts about his appetite for the cut and thrust of Indian politics.
Research conducted earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, a US-based thinktank, showed 58% of Indians viewed Gandhi positively compared with 88% for Modi.
Buzz around Gandhi’s election has been built in past months by high-profile speeches at US universities, fierce attacks on Modi over India’s slowing economy and a feistier presence on social media.
“He has to present a reinvented image of himself to the people,” Mukhopadhyay said. “He has for the last 10 years had this image of a reluctant politician – it is only in the last few months he’s been seen as more serious and articulate.”
Gandhi was 21 when his father, Rajiv, the then-prime minister, was killed by a suicide bomber at a political rally. Six years earlier his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, was murdered by a bodyguard in her home.
“In my life I have seen my grandmother die, I have seen my father die, I have seen my grandmother go to jail and I have actually been through a tremendous amount of pain as a child,” he said in a 2014 TV interview.
“When these things happen to you, what I had to be scared of, I lost. There is absolutely nothing I am scared of.”
Gandhi will be sworn as party president this Saturday.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010