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Rahul 'needs to back up vows with action'

Publication Date : 22-01-2013


The Congress party's new second-in-command, Rahul Gandhi, set out an ambitious agenda to overhaul India's grand old party in his maiden speech on Sunday.

Declaring that the party "is now my life", he said it needed to change, such as by decentralising power, grooming leaders and creating a culture in which party members either "perform or make way for others". At least two senior party leaders called the speech Congress' "Obama moment", referring to United States President Barack Obama and his "Yes we can" speech.

Experts, however, say what Gandhi needed to do next is back up his words with action.

"These are not easy issues," said Uttar Pradesh-based political analyst Sudhir Panwar, referring to what Gandhi said he would do. "His main challenge, of course, is to win an election."

Nine states, including Delhi, are scheduled to hold elections over the next 12 months, ahead of next year's general election.

The 127-year-old Congress is going through a particularly rough period. It fared poorly in recent state elections, which Congress president Sonia Gandhi blamed on infighting and indiscipline.

The image of the Congress, which heads a coalition government, has also taken a beating following a series of corruption scandals last year.

Its leaders were also surprised at the extent of young Indians' deep-seated anger at those in power, including Gandhi, following the gang-rape of a 23-year-old student early last month.

In his speech, Gandhi dwelt on the disconnect between ordinary people, particularly those who are young or poor, and the political class.

"Why are our youth angry? Why are they out on the streets? They are angry because they are alienated," he said. "Why are the poor confined to powerlessness and poverty? Because the decision over their lives... is decided by people far away, answerable to them only in theory," he added.

"We have to relook things in the system and we have to transform them completely," he said, though he stressed that change would take time.

Critics say Gandhi has yet to prove his mettle in politics or articulate his position on important economic and political issues, but his supporters point out that he has brought younger politicians into the mainstream.

Questions are also being asked if the 42-year- old scion can revive the fortunes of the Congress and reach out to young voters. More than half of India's 1.2 billion people are under the age of 35.

"There was this yearning among the youth for him to take over. But that is not the case now. He is identified with this government," said Delhi-based political analyst G.V.L. Narsimha Rao.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), struggling with leadership issues like the Congress, took a jab at Gandhi's political anointment.

"The world's largest democracy cannot be entrusted to those whose actual potential we do not know, whose opinions on various subjects we do not know," said BJP leader Arun Jaitley.


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