Friday 15 December 2017

Gandhi heir blasts 'elitist' India

Rahul Gandhi waves to the crowd during an election rally in Amethi, India (AP/Manish A)
Rahul Gandhi waves to the crowd during an election rally in Amethi, India (AP/Manish A)

The heir to India's Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty has promised that he will work to transform the country by decentralising power.

The pledge by Rahul Gandhi came after he was elevated to the governing Congress party's number two post - a position behind his mother Sonia.

His career embodies Congress' reliance on the Gandhi family name, but the man widely expected to be the party's candidate for prime minister in next year's election condemned elitism as "the tragedy of India" and vowed to work to expand access to power for ordinary people.

"For me, the Congress party is my life. The people of India are my life and I will fight for them," Mr Gandhi, 42, said in his acceptance speech in the western city of Jaipur on Sunday, a day after he was appointed his party's vice president. His mother is the Congress party president.

Reflecting on his eight years while working for the party organisation, Rahul Gandhi said India's governmental system was struck in the past and the answer lay in completely transforming it.

"A handful of people control the entire political space," he told cheering party workers. "It doesn't matter how much wisdom you have. If you don't have position, you have nothing. That's the tragedy of India."

Mr Gandhi also said many Indian youths were angry because they had been excluded from the political class. "We only empower people at the top of the system. We don't believe in empowering all the way to the bottom," he said.

He said change could be possible only if those in power started respecting and empowering people for their knowledge and skills. "All the public systems - administration, justice, education and political - are designed to keep people with knowledge out," he said. Such a system, he added, promoted mediocrity.

But opposition parties are already seizing on the fast political rise of Mr Gandhi - the son, grandson and great-grandson of Indian prime ministers - to brand Congress as nepotistic and elitist. Arun Jaitley, a leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said Mr Gandhi's elevation in the Congress party was a move to convert the world's largest democracy into a dynastic nation. Mr Jaitley said the leader of his party was decided on the basis of ability, not lineage.

In 2004, Manmohan Singh, a technocrat, was chosen to fill the prime minister's seat by Sonia Gandhi, the widow of assassinated Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Mr Singh has been widely seen as a regent, keeping the seat warm until Rahul Gandhi was ready to take what some see as his birthright.

Press Association

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