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The political evolution of Rahul Gandhi

From his first electoral win to a 56-day hiatus from politics to his speech at UC Berkeley, here’s a look at the political career of Rahul Gandhi, who filed his nomination for the post of Congress president today

india Updated: Dec 04, 2017 19:14 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Rahul Gandhi,Congress president,Live updates
Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi arrives to file his nomination papers at the party headquarters, in New Delhi. (AP)

Rahul Gandhi is set to become the president of the Indian National Congress , taking over the mantle from his mother Sonia.

Gandhi , who was Congress vice president for the past five years, filed his nomination papers at the party’s 24 Akbar Road headquarters in New Delhi on Monday. The Congress selects its president through an election, but it is not expected that anyone will challenge Gandhi’s nomination or file papers.

As Rahul comes of age in Indian politics, here’s a look at his political journey so far:

Rahul was born in 1970, the first child of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia and the grandson of Indira Gandhi. He and sister Priyanka have lived their entire lives under the spotlight. Rahul Gandhi was just shy of his 21st birthday when his father Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu in 1991.

Rahul attended The Doon School in Dehradun, Uttarakhand from 1981 and then joined St Stephen’s College in Delhi, before moving to the United States and then the United Kingdom for further education.

Politics wasn’t Rahul’s first calling. After he finished his M.Phil from Cambridge University’s Trinity College in 1995, he worked at a management consulting firm in London for three years. When he returned to India, he started running his own strategy consultancy in Mumbai.

Indira Gandhi, with grandchildren Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi, paying homage to Jawaharlal Nehru at Shantivan on 27 May, 1981. ( Virendra Prabhakar/HT archives )

Rahul’s first foray into active politics was in 2004, when he contested the Lok Sabha elections from his father’s former constituency Amethi. He won his first election by over one lakh votes. Ever since his entry into politics, Rahul has had to contend with labels such as ‘prince’ and political rivals have focussed on his dynasty to attack him.

In 2007, he was appointed the Congress general secretary. He also took charge of Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India.

In this May 21, 2011 file photo, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi talks to son Rahul Gandhi during a memorial ceremony for husband Rajiv Gandhi on the former prime minister's 20th death anniversary in New Delhi. ( HT Archives )

The first test of Rahul’s political mettle came in 2009, when he campaigned for the Congress during Uttar Pradesh elections. The Congress, which had been struggling in the state, won 22 out of 80 seats, its best show in years.

But this victory was short-lived. Rahul’s extensive tour of Bihar could not land Congress a victory in the state in the 2010 state elections, and the party managed a measly 4 out of 243 assembly seats.

In 2011, Rahul made national headlines when he took on the Mayawati government during the anti-land acquisition protests by farmers in Bhatta Parsaul. Gandhi dodged the police to enter the village, riding pillion on a farmer’s motorbike, and was arrested by the administration.

While Rahul wasn’t officially helming the party, it was his strategies that the Congress followed in the 2012 Uttar Pradesh elections. But Gandhi’s high-profile campaign and tours of the state resulted in naught. The Congress suffered a crushing defeat.

A 2011 photo of Rahul Gandhi meeting with villagers in Chill village, Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh. ( HT Archives )

Gandhi studiously refused any cabinet position under both the terms of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government. In 2013, Gandhi was appointed as the Congress Vice-President at a party conclave in Jaipur.

The 2014 general elections were Gandhi’s litmus test, but the incumbent Congress government faced a humiliating defeat as the BJP-led NDA claimed a landslide victory, winning 336 seats. The BJP won 282 seats by itself, the first time that a non-Congress party won a simple majority on its own.

The run-up to the elections were marked by a fierce contest. The BJP’s party machinery painted Rahul as the ‘shehzada’, who was out of touch with reality, while Gandhi was bested by Narendra Modi when it came to communication skills. The Congress’ hesitation in making Rahul Gandhi the sole face of its campaign was seen as the party’s reluctance to lay the blame of defeat squarely on his shoulders.

On February 23, 2015, the Gandhi scion took an impromptu 56-day break from politics, prompting “missing” posters with his face and name in Amethi. It also prompted a slew of political commentaries that saw Gandhi as a reluctant politician.

In April 2015, Rahul Gandhi addressed the Parliament on the issue of farmer crisis,calling the NDA a ‘suit-boot ki sarkaar’. In May the same year, Gandhi’s office opened a Twitter account, which now has a following of 4.68 million.

Rahul Gandhi delivered a speech at the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley, California. ( PTI )

The Congress vice-president has become more active of late. His speech at University of California, Berkeley, earlier this year garnered praise for Gandhi’s frankness in answering questions on dynasty and the BJP’s economic policies. Gandhi’s astute use of his Twitter account , laced with humour and sarcasm,challenged Modi government’s policies such as demonetisation and GST and increased the Gandhi scion’s social media following.

Rahul’s elevation to the post of Congress president will mark his coming into his own. It seems that he is ready to emerge out of his mother’s shadow, an allegation levelled at him by political opponents.

First Published: Dec 04, 2017 14:37 IST