India's Rahul Gandhi seeks 'poison' of power
By Christian Otton, AFP
April 8, 2014, 12:15 am TWN
NEW DELHI--He has never held public office, has likened power to "poison," and seen his father and grandmother assassinated by extremists. Now Rahul Gandhi wants to become India's prime minister.
If polls are to believed, the 43-year-old is about to lead his Congress party to a crushing defeat in national elections starting Monday.
In public, the scion of India's most famous dynasty refuses to contemplate a loss to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and its right-wing leader, Narendra Modi.
But most analysts believe that Gandhi knows he hasn't a hope of victory, and some question whether a man apparently born to rule really wants the job.
"He is not desperate as he knows his father became prime minister too early ... but I think there's no easy choices in politics," said Rasheed Kidwai, who has written several books about Congress and the Gandhis.
Modi, son of a tea-seller, is India's ultimate rags-to-riches story.
Gandhi was born into a life of privilege, but his younger years were cloaked in tragedy.
He was 14 when 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.
His father, Rajiv Gandhi, was then pressed to take over as premier. Seven years later, Rajiv was assassinated by a Tamil suicide bomber.
"In my life I have seen my grandmother die, I have seen my father die, I have seen my grandmother go to jail and I have actually been through a tremendous amount of pain as a child," Rahul Gandhi said in a recent TV interview.
"When these things happen to you, what I had to be scared of I lost. There is absolutely nothing I am scared of."
With Gandhi studying at Harvard, it was left to his Italian-born mother Sonia to pick up the mantle and lead Congress back to power in 2004, before declining to become premier.
After office jobs in London and Mumbai, Rahul Gandhi was sucked into politics himself and entered parliament in 2004 in a seat vacated by his mother, who remains the Congress president.
After a stint as head of its youth wing, his profile rose further when he became Congress vice president in January 2013. But he has still struggled to carve out a reputation as a politician in his own right.
It has not helped that his younger sister Priyanka brims with the charisma Rahul is accused of lacking. A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable, written in 2007, said he was "widely viewed as an empty suit."