Rahul Gandhi: Destiny’s child or an ‘empty suit’? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 11, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, April 11, 2019

Rahul Gandhi: Destiny’s child or an ‘empty suit’?

Rahul Gandhi, vying to become the latest prime minister from India’s most famous dynasty, has worked hard to shed his image as an entitled footloose princeling and political lightweight.

But the great-grandson, grandson and son of three past premiers of the world’s biggest democracy still faces a tough task beating Prime Minister Narendra Modi in elections starting Thursday.

Rahul was enrolled at Harvard but dropped out after a year, following his father’s death in 1991. He later graduated from Rollins College, Florida and in 1994 earned a master’s degree from Cambridge.

While in his 20s he lived in London, where he worked at a management consultancy for a time.

His Italian-born mother Sonia Gandhi, widow of Rajiv Gandhi, took charge of the Congress party in 1998 before handing over the reins to Rahul, her first-born, in 2017.

Ten years earlier, in 2007, leaked US diplomatic cables said Rahul was viewed as an “empty suit” and “lightweight”, with little known about his political beliefs -- if he had any. But by 2009, the US assessment changed. 

After Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) crushed Congress at the 2014 election, Gandhi set about reviving and rejuvenating the party, while keeping older hands on side.

He has, in contrast to the Hindu nationalist Modi, reached out to Muslim voters and stressed his secular credentials, and also to women, promising to bring legislation setting aside seats in parliament for them.

Last December, Congress secured victory in three key state elections, including in Modi’s northern Indian “cow belt” heartland, suddenly making Gandhi look like a serious contender.

During the campaign for the election, Gandhi has attacked Modi’s record on farmers, jobs, alleged corruption in purchase of Rafale jets from France and his close ties to business. Gandhi’s leftist manifesto pledges to end abject poverty by 2030 and give cash transfers to 50 million families. Opinion polls show little impact of the allegations on Modi.

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