Sonia Gandhi has ended 19 years as head of India’s National Congress party. Her successor, her son Rahul Gandhi, accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of inciting “medieval” acts against minorities.
Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, 71, stepped down formally as the National Congress president on Saturday, describing her 47-year-old son Rahul as the party’s new hope after it ran up recent defeats in state elections.
Saturday’s handover ceremony at party headquarters in New Delhi followed Rahul’s unopposed election in a Congress party vote last Monday.
Rahul’s elevation from party vice president to president leaves him tasked with reviving the ailing center-left party ahead of India’s next national polls due in 2019, according to analysts.
During his induction speech, Rahul, the sixth member of the party’s dynasty since his great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru became Indian independence premier in 1947, accused the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “lighting fires of hate.”
He accused Modi of “taking us back to the medieval times where people are butchered because of who they are, beaten for what they believe in and killed for what they eat.”
Vigilante Hindu groups criticized
Rahul Gandhi was referring to attacks – since Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP swept to power in 2014 – by fringe vigilante Hindu groups on India’s minority communities, especially Muslims.
Hindus make up about 80 percent of India’s population, Muslims about 14 percent.
Manmohan Singh, who Sonia Gandhi elevated to premier after Congress and its allies won general elections in 2004, said Rahul Gandhi was taking over when “there were dangers that the politics of fear would take over the politics of hope.”
Hope was essential in 1.3-billion-population India where millions of residents were still afflicted by poverty, ignorance and disease, Singh said.
Congress heading for defeat?
The younger Gandhi’s assumption of leadership came as exit surveys for local elections in Modi’s home state of Gujarat indicated that the Congress party might be headed for yet another defeat.
Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said her mother, although ill with an undisclosed ailment since 2011, intended to contest elections in 2019 from her constituency of Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh state.
During Singh’s governance, Sonia Gandhi acted as advisor, being credited for pushing through key legislation such as India’s Right to Information Act and its National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to assist rural households.
A family affair
Sonia Gandhi became Congress party president after her husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991by Sri Lankan Tamil rebels.
His grandmother, prime minister Indira Gandhi, was slain by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 as revenge for the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Family biographer Rasheed Kidwai said the Gandhis were the “glue that holds the Congress together.”
“Rahul Gandhi is the party’s best bet but it has to go back to its core ideology: inclusive development, secularism,” said Kidwai.
ipj/jm (dpa, AP, AFP)