RAHUL TAKES CHARGE
Ever since Rahul Gandhi, 47, fought his first election in 2004, his ascent to Congress presidency was preordained. The Congress Working Committee has decided it’s time to bite the bullet—in a few weeks. So Rahul remains on the verge, a faintly damning phrase that sums up his political career. By mid-December, he’ll take over a party that’s only just recovered from what seemed to be terminal decline. Rahul’s also in the midst of a personal renaissance. Campaigning in Gujarat, he has been assured, caustic, taken the fight to the BJP. Can he revive the Congress?
2004: Just before his 34th birthday, Rahul contests the Lok Sabha election from father Rajiv’s old seat Amethi. Congress shocks ruling BJP 2007: Made general secretary in charge of the Youth Congress and National Students’ Union of India. Promises to reform youth politics—introduces YC elections and drives membership to unprecedented levels 2008: In a speech about farmer suicides, Rahul tells Parliament about Kalavati, a widow in Maharashtra’s droughtridden Vidarbha region. The speech makes national headlines, as reporters beat a path to Kalavati’s door 2009: Retains Amethi in general elections. Stays the night in a Dalit
home, eating, bathing and sleeping out in the open. Begins Bharat darshan, speaking at
125 rallies in six weeks
2011: Joins farmers in
Bhatta Parsaul village on May 11 protesting the forcible acquisition of their land at low rates by the state government. Is arrested by UP police. Later, the UPA government passes the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill
2012: Congress wins just 28 seats in UP assembly polls. After the December 16 gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, Rahul sponsors the education of her two brothers 2013: Is appointed Congress vice president; power is poison, he says. Describes as “complete nonsense” his own party’s proposed ordinance giving convicted politicians reprieves from disqualifica
tion. In December, Congress finishes 3rd in Delhi behind the BJP and AAP. Rahul says he’ll transform Congress,“in ways you cannot imagine.”
2014: In an abject general election defeat,
Congress is reduced to just 44 seats. Partymen call for sister Priyanka to lead.
2015: Disappears for two months for Vipassana. Reinvigorated, in April he coins the phrase ‘suitboot ki sarkar’ for the Modi government, forcing it to turn tail on amendments to the 2011 Land Acquisition Bill. In November, brings Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar together to win Bihar elections.
2015-17: His leadership of the Congress is in danger of becoming a national joke, as the Congress loses elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Assam and Kerala. In UP, the alliance with Akhilesh Yadav is an apparent disaster. In Manipur and Goa, the Congress is the largest party but fails to form government. Only in Punjab is victory secured and credit goes to Amarinder Singh.
2017: Effective speeches on US university campuses give Rahul confidence. A Congress social media campaign in Gujarat mocking the BJP’s promise of development—“vikas gando thayo chhe”—goes viral, encouraging Rahul to embrace Twitter and sharpen his pitch. Calls GST “Gabbar Singh Tax”; cleverly mocks Amit Shah’s son, Jay, alleged to have profited from his connections, as “Shahjyada”, a reference both to Jay’s greed and the ‘Shehzada’ nickname Shah and Narendra Modi use to deride him.