Debating India

ELECTIONS 2004

Congress(I)’s new hope

Amulya GOPALAKRISHNAN

Friday 23 April 2004, by GOPALAKRISHNAN*Amulya

THE Family lives on. Rahul Gandhi, a member of the fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has decided to take the plunge into politics and contest the Lok Sabha polls from Amethi.

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Projected as the Congress(I)’s great hope in a country with an overwhelmingly young population, the 33-year-old Rahul Gandhi has a lot riding on his shoulders. Says senior Congress(I) leader Jairam Ramesh: "As a Member of Parliament from Amethi, he will have a role in rebuilding the party in Uttar Pradesh as well as a larger involvement in the future."

As far as his background is concerned, Rahul Gandhi is quite the international man of mystery. The Congress(I) office has not bothered with a `CV’ yet, but media reports stress his institution-hopping history and insist that he has not stuck through any academic degree. As Maneka Gandhi has pointed out, not a single person from the Nehru-Gandhi family has finished a degree in the last 90 years, including Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi.

While Rahul Gandhi did not have the grades to make it to Delhi’s St. Stephens College, he was admitted in the sports quota for his shooting skills. His contemporaries at college remember him as a low-profile, reserved person. Said Upinder Singh, who currently heads the college’s History department: "His stint at St. Stephens was too brief to judge his academic merit." Later, Rahul Gandhi shifted to Harvard University. According to the Harvard alumni records, he attended the school between 1990 and 1993 (which makes him an exact contemporary of Jyotiraditya Scindia there), lived off campus and did not get a degree. However, Jairam Ramesh claims that he transferred to another school in Massachusetts because of "security concerns", and completed his Bachelors degree. While media reports claim that Rahul Gandhi is not listed on the college database, Ramesh asserts that "in 1995, he got an M.Phil. in the economics of developing countries from Trinity College, Cambridge".

After that Rahul Gandhi joined the London office of Monitor, a leading consultancy firm set up by Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School, where he is reported to have worked in projects relating to technology and communication. On his return to India, over a year ago, he set up his own consultancy firm in Mumbai.

However, to quibble over degrees does not take away from the fact that Rahul Gandhi has done his homework where it counts - in Amethi. He is said to be a strategic planner and has been involved in Amethi for a while, along with sister Priyanka Vadra. He was responsible for launching primary education projects such as the Pratham initiative in the area, says Jairam Ramesh.

When the Gandhi siblings visited Amethi in late January, they triggered off intense speculation about a possible political launch. With bafflers like "I am not averse to politics but that does not mean that I am going to join politics" from Rahul Gandhi, the general consensus was that Priyanka Vadra would inherit the political legacy.

From the earlier shy, retiring image, Rahul Gandhi appeared a lot more politically savvy as he spoke to crowds and visited families in Amethi. Unlike Sonia Gandhi’s early days, his campaign does not appear dizzy with spin and script. On a visit to Amethi before filing his nomination, he stressed his emotional connection with the people and his need to serve India with a self-described dil ki rajniti (politics of the heart). "While developed countries push ahead for progress, we are being told that we are fully developed," he said, criticising the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s `India Shining’ rhetoric.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded fiery Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader and ex-MP Ram Vilas Vedanti against him, Amethi is all set to send Rahul Gandhi to Parliament with the overwhelming majority reserved for the Nehru-Gandhi family, say Congress(I) workers.

Whether that claim extends beyond Amethi and whether he can "rebuild the party" as many Congress(I) leaders hope remain to be tested.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Pic : KAMAL KISHORE/REUTERS ; Rahul Gandhi in Amethi on March 29.

in Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 08, April 10 - 23, 2004.

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