Rahul Gandhi takes over from mother as Congress chief

New Congress president Rahul Gandhi with his mother Sonia during a ceremony at the party's headquarters in New Delhi yesterday. He was elected unopposed to take over from his mother, who had been at the helm since 1998.
New Congress president Rahul Gandhi with his mother Sonia during a ceremony at the party's headquarters in New Delhi yesterday. He was elected unopposed to take over from his mother, who had been at the helm since 1998.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI • Mr Rahul Gandhi took over yesterday as president of India's main opposition Congress, becoming the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to head the party that has ruled the country for much of its independent history.

Fireworks erupted over the party headquarters in New Delhi, drowning out the voice of his mother Sonia Gandhi as she handed over the reins of power to her 47-year-old son, who now faces the tough task of ousting the right-wing government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Gandhi, wearing a long flowing white kurta, smiled and waved from the dais adorned with posters of his late grandmother and father, former prime ministers Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

"I accept this position with the deepest humility, with the knowledge that I will always be walking in the shadow of giants," Mr Gandhi said in his acceptance speech, which quickly became an attack on Mr Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"The Congress party took us into the 21st century but the Prime Minister today is taking us backwards to the medieval times where people are butchered for who they are, beaten for what they believe and killed for what they eat," he said.

The Modi government has been under fire in the past several months for an increase in inter-faith violence, including attacks by vigilantes largely targeting Muslims for allegedly consuming beef or killing cows, which are sacred to Hindus.

HONOURED

I accept this position with the deepest humility, with the knowledge that I will always be walking in the shadow of giants.

MR RAHUL GANDHI, who took over yesterday as president of India's main opposition Congress party.

Mr Gandhi was elected unopposed to take over from his mother, who had been at the helm since 1998 following the assassination of her husband.

Mrs Gandhi helped Congress win the general elections in 2004 and 2009. But the party was swept out of office by the BJP in 2014 and is now in a fight to win back support before a general election, which must be held by 2019.

Mr Gandhi became Congress vice-president in 2013 and led the campaign for the 2014 election, in which the party recorded its worst-ever showing as it lost power to Mr Modi's BJP.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 17, 2017, with the headline 'Rahul Gandhi takes over from mother as Congress chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe