Rahul Gandhi elected President of India’s grand-old Congress Party

Rahul Gandhi, vice-president of the Congress Party was elected unopposed as president of the Indian National Congress here on Monday, December 11th, 2017. Gandhi’s appointment was confirmed on Monday, days after he filed his nomination papers for the post. There were no other contenders. He will officially take over as the President of the oldest Indian national Party on December 16th.

Briefing reporters, the party’s central election authority chief Mullappally Ramachandran said Gandhi will formally take over on December 16. “Since the withdrawal of date/time is over and as there is only one candidate (Rahul), as per Article XVII (d) of the Constitution of Indian National Congress, I hereby declare Shri Rahul Gandhi elected as president of the Indian National Congress,” Ramachandran said.

At the party headquarters, 24 Akbar Road, slogans such as “Agla pradhan mantri kaisa ho, Rahul Gandhi jaisa ho,”(Who would be our next PM, Rahul Gandhi!) and crackers rent the air as Mr. Ramachandran made the announcement. Supporters gathered in huge numbers waving Congress flags.

He is the 16th president of the Congress since Independence and sixth from the Nehru-Gandhi clan to take over the party reins. Mr. Gandhi has been vice-president of the party since 2013.

Among other senior politicians, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also congratulated him. “I congratulate Rahulji on his election as Congress President my best wishes for a fruitful tenure,” he tweeted.

The Congress, the country’s largest opposition party, which has ruled India for most periods since Indian gained independence from the British Raj in 1947,  won less than 20% of the popular vote in the seismic 2014 general elections which catapulted Narendra Modi’s BJP to power. It secured just 44 – or 8% – of the 543 parliamentary seats in its worst performance ever.

Since then, the Congress has lost elections in half-a-dozen states, and is now in power in only two big states – Karnataka and Punjab – and three other smaller ones. Its prospects in two imminent state elections – Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh – look mixed.

Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad said even before taking over, Gandhi had rattled the BJP. “After three decades, we have a Congress president in the mid-40s. Of course his father took over at a younger age. In the last four-years, Rahul Gandhi has worked hard and we can see the results today. He is leading the Congress campaign alone in Gujarat and the BJP is countering him with their 80 Cabinet Ministers, 12-15 Chief Ministers, and State Ministers,” Azad said.

The incumbent president Sonia Gandhi is expected to hold a designated role as an overall guide and mentor of party. According to sources, a new post of a party patron may be constituted to accommodate her. There is no clarity yet on whether she will resign from the post of parliamentary party chief or not.

The new Congress president has to live up to the expectations of his colleagues who hope that he would arrest the slide in the party’s electoral fortunes. “In 2014, we were in a weak spot. We have been on a path of recovery since then. Despite a measly 44 MPs, under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi we have forced the government to roll back anti-poor measures in GST and the Land Acquisition Bill,” Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi said.

Monday’s announcement has to be ratified by the Congress plenary session. The plenary will also elect the new Congress Working Committee. People across the Indian continent hope that Gandhi, 47, will change the fortunes of his enfeebled party.

He entered public life 13 years ago, when he stood and won in his family seat of Amethi. Since then, the fifth-generation scion has been seen as a reluctant politician, aloof and disinterested in the hurly burly of politics.

Gandhi’s elevation to the party’s second most senior leader – after his mother Sonia Gandhi – in 2013 didn’t improve things. He tried to reform his party by holding primaries, revitalize its flagging youth wing and running it like a corporate office. But the results have been less than impressive, and the party’s slide has continued.

After his initial reluctance and poor show at election rallies, Gandhi, the son of late Rajiv Gandhi and grand son of late Indira Gandhi, has come around and has begun establishing himself as a mass leader in his own name.

Gandhi went on a well-received tour of the US, meeting students, think-tank experts, government leaders, and journalists and took questions from them. He was self deprecating about his limitations – he told students at University of California, Berkeley that Mr Modi was a “better communicator” than him.

His social media campaign has finally begun packing a punch. Mr Gandhi is now being seen as more open and refreshingly amusing – he tweeted a health update about his mother’s illness and a video featuring his dog, which caused a sensation.

With Rahul Ganshi assuming office, the highest decision-making body of the party is expected to see a few changes. Gandhi is likely to bring in some new faces. The plenary session may be held in mid-January either in Delhi or Karnataka.

Gandhi’s burst of enthusiasm appears to have energised the party’s rank and file somewhat, but he will need a lot more political nous and strategy if he’s to start winning elections.

He will need to articulate a compelling economic vision to young Indians who are tired of confusing reformist platitudes. He will have to find and encourage charismatic and clean local leaders, forge winning alliances with regional parties, and make sure his party runs better governments in the states it rules.

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