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Last Updated: Monday, 24 September 2007, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Gandhis plot their next move
By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Delhi

Rahul Gandhi greets supporters
Party workers have been pleading Rahul's case

For a few hours on Monday umpteen Indian television channels moved away from previewing the India-Pakistan Twenty20 cricket final in South Africa to focus on the induction of Rahul Gandhi into the Congress party hierarchy.

The 37-year-old media-shy son of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and wife Sonia was elected to the national parliament in 2004.

He will now hold a host of positions in the party: general secretary, member of the highest decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee, head of Youth Congress and National Students Union of India. He will also be a member of the party's campaign committee.

Congress has been dominated by members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Three members rose to be prime minister.

Sonia Gandhi would have been the fourth had her "inner voice" not told her to turn it down in 2004.

So Rahul's elevation brings little surprise.

He has followed the path taken by his pilot-turned-politician father Rajiv Gandhi in 1982, who was made a general secretary of Congress and then filled his mother Indira's shoes after her assassination in 1984.

Backed out

Rahul has been called a "reluctant prince". He has come close to getting a formal position in the party on several occasions but backed out every time.

Political commentator and psephologist Yogendra Yadav says Rahul Gandhi's elevation is significant due to its timing. "There is nothing surprising about the move. It was predictable. It is the timing. It goes to show that the Congress is readying for a snap poll," Mr Yadav says.

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul's reticence has attracted attention

Rahul Gandhi, the older of Sonia Gandhi's two children, represents an economically backward constituency in Uttar Pradesh where both his parents were elected.

Little is known about his views on political, economic and social issues. He has made no really significant intervention during his three and half years in parliament.

The Congress won a mere 150 seats in a house of 544 members in the 2004 elections. The BJP won 131 seats. The surfeit of regional parties and communist parties with whom the Congress joined hands helped it to form a national government after eight years in opposition.

The low number of seats and its shrinking presence in northern India was a worry for Congress strategists.

The clamour for Rahul Gandhi's induction in the party apparatus grew. Chief ministers, federal ministers and the average Congress worker used every occasion to plead with Sonia Gandhi that her son be given a formal post in the party.

Too late

For a long time after his election as an MP, Rahul maintained a low profile. That changed this year when he hit the road during state elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Shrine to assassinated prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who died in 1991
Rahul's father, Rajiv, was assassinated in 1991

But his intervention came too late.

The party of low caste Dalits or former untouchables, the BSP, copied the old formula of the Congress party and successfully forged a coalition of different social groups. Result - Congress won a mere 21 seats in the UP legislature.

Congress leaders were quick to defend Rahul.

They competed with each other to clear him of blame for the party's poor showing.

Minister Kapil Sibal was quoted as saying that "Rahul is here to stay and he will stay till such time that Congress is revived in UP".

Rahul's reticence has, paradoxically, only attracted attention. People turn up in large numbers to get a glimpse of him when he moves around but Congress has benefited little so far.

The bureau chief of The Times of India, Diwakar, argues that Rahul Gandhi has made "no contribution to the Congress party outside the constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareilly" he and his mother represent in the lower house.

Diwakar echoes Yogendra Yadav's argument that Rahul Gandhi's formal appointment shows that a confident Congress is gearing up for early elections.

However, anyone expecting that Rahul will be catapulted into a leadership position or that in the next election the Congress will project him as its leader may well have to wait.

Rahul Gandhi gets Congress post
24 Sep 07 |  South Asia
Profile: Rahul Gandhi
24 Sep 07 |  South Asia
Rahul Gandhi declines party role
23 Jan 06 |  South Asia
Gandhi name dominates again
19 May 04 |  South Asia

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