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‘We spread love’: Rahul Gandhi takes charge as Congress president; ups ante against Modi, BJP

For long the heir-in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi was made Congress president on Saturday, taking over over from his mother Sonia, who stepped down after 19 years, the longest term for a party president.

india Updated: Dec 16, 2017 22:23 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rahul Gandhi,Congress President,Sonia Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi receives greetings from supporters after taking charge as Congress president during an event held at the lawns of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in New Delhi on Saturday. (PTI Photo)

The verdict to the assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are not due until Monday, but irrespective of the verdict, celebrations came early at the Indian National Congress’ HQ in Delhi’s Lutyens’ area with Rahul Gandhi taking over as the party’s president on Saturday.

Gandhi, 47, for long the heir-in-waiting, took over from his mother Sonia Gandhi, 71, who has been the party’s head for 19 years. He was elected unopposed to the position.

Soon after taking over, he delivered a 13-minute speech, partly in Hindi and partly in English, and with the mixture of aggression and reconciliation that has become his style through a gruelling campaign in Gujarat. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has ruled the state for 22 years is confident of bettering its tally of 115 from the 2012 elections. Opinion polls predict the BJP will win the state, although many of them say the Congress will improve its tally of 61 from 2012. The Congress itself is confident of doing so. All opinion polls and experts expect the BJP to win Himachal easily.

In some ways, the Congress’ performance in Gujarat will set the tone for Gandhi’s stint as the party chief. He was the face of the party in the 2014 parliamentary elections that it lost badly. Since then, it has performed poorly in most state elections, and, when it has had the chance to form the government, been too slow to cobble together a post-poll alliance. On Saturday, soon after taking over the reins of the 132-year old party, and cheered on by an audience of a few hundred supporters including his mother, his sister Priyanka Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and senior leaders, he accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of is taking the country “back to the medieval times”.

“The Congress took India into the 21st century while the Prime Minister today is taking us backwards, to a medieval past where people are butchered because of who they are, beaten for what they believe and killed for what they eat,” Rahul said.

“BJP breaks, we join. They set fire, we douse it. They spread hate, we spread love. They divide, we bring people together and that is what tells us apart,” he added, even as Sonia Gandhi and Singh applauded.

“We consider the BJP our brothers and sisters, even though we do not agree with them. They want an India free of Congress, they want to erase us but the Congress’ inclusion and respect for all Indians extends even to the BJP. We do not fight hate with hate,” the new Congress chief said.

Sonia Gandhi, the Congress’ longest serving party chief, is expected to continue to play a guiding role and will continue to head the Congress parliamentary party and the much truncated United Progressive Alliance (UPA) as its chairperson.

Gandhi called upon the Congress workers to fight the “regressive” forces and insisted that he wanted the party to become an instrument for dialogue between the people of India. “I have realised over the last few years is that they attack the Congress and try to weaken us but they can only defeat us if we back down. Stand up to them - and their anger and hatred make all of you and us stronger.”

Former Prime Minister Singh said he hoped that Gandhi would sustain the “politics of hope” and not allow the “politics of fear” to take over at a time when certain “disturbing trends” are noticeable in the country’s polity.

The BJP said the Congress party will “remain corrupt” despite the change at the helm.

“Congress is not an ancient thought process as claimed by a few, rather Congress is a corrupt thought process and that has been proved by the judicial process today,” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said, referring to the sentencing of former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda in the coal block scam. The government of Koda, an independent MLA, was supported by the Congress and others.

“This (Koda case) speaks volumes about the thought process, the working nature of Congress party. So a new president or an old president, the working style of Congress party, the corrupt ways of Congress party still remain the same,” he told reporters.

First Published: Dec 16, 2017 21:12 IST