x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Rahul Gandhi named party vice president, extending family dynasty

Anointment of inexperienced son of president sparks criticism from opposition and public. Samanth Subramanian reports from New Delhi

“We don’t respect knowledge, we respect position. If you don’t have position, you have nothing. That’s the tragedy of India,” Rahul Gandhi said in his first speech in his new role.
“We don’t respect knowledge, we respect position. If you don’t have position, you have nothing. That’s the tragedy of India,” Rahul Gandhi said in his first speech in his new role.

NEW DELHI // India's oldest political party has signalled that it will continue to be led, for at least another generation, by a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

At a conclave in Jaipur, the Congress party formally announced that Rahul Gandhi - the 42-year-old son of the party's president, Sonia Gandhi - will serve as the vice president.

Yesterday, during his first speech in his new role, Mr Gandhi switched between English and Hindi as he reached out to a "young and impatient India".

"Until we start to respect and empower people, we cannot change anything in this country," he told the 1,200 party delegates.

"A handful of people control the entire political space. We don't respect knowledge, we respect position," he added to cheering party workers."If you don't have position, you have nothing. That's the tragedy of India."

The Congress has stopped short of projecting Mr Gandhi as its prime-ministerial candidate in next year's elections, although Sandeep Dikshit, a party spokesperson, did say that Mr Gandhi would be the "chief campaigner".

Jatin Gandhi, who co-authored Rahul, a biography of Rahul Gandhi, and who is not related, said that this elevation into the vice presidency was merely a formality.

"For all practical purposes, Rahul was already number two in the party leadership," he said. "But now the Congress has a few state elections coming up - in the north-east states and in Karnataka - where they are likely to do well.

"So if they project Rahul at this point in time, they can attribute the success in these upcoming elections to him."

The Congress party has had only two other vice presidents in its long history.

"Normally they don't have a vice president," said Jatin Gandhi. "But they needed the post to be created this time, because the formal stamp was needed. I think it makes him the prime-ministerial candidate without having to make that announcement."

The Congress - formally called the Indian National Congress - was founded in 1885, and played a leading role in earning India freedom from British rule.

But since India became independent in 1947, the party has been dominated by members of a single family: first Jawaharlal Nehru, followed by his daughter, Indira Gandhi, then her son, Rajiv, and now his wife, Sonia.

The perpetuation of the family's control of the party, and Rahul Gandhi's qualifications, have come under attack from the opposition.

"This development may excite the Congress but it does not excite the people of this country," said Prakash Javadekar, a member of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Another BJP leader, Arun Jaitley, slammed the Congress party's fondness for "dynastic democracy" and criticised Rahul Gandhi, whose "actual potential is not known".

Thus far, Mr Gandhi has only led the Indian Youth Congress.

His management of his party's campaigns during state elections in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh ended poorly, with the party performing dismally in both elections.

There were also signs that India's younger voters - to whom Mr Gandhi is supposed to appeal - are not happy with his promotion.

Pankaj Kumar, a 27-year-old civil engineer who works with Delhi Metro, said that Mr Gandhi's anointment as vice president was "good for nothing".

"He hasn't proven himself to be capable of leadership," he added. "This move is not in our country's democratic culture at all. One family ruling a party, ruling a country, is not a good thing."

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

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