Monday, May 23, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Doubts grow over India's 'next PM' Rahul Gandhi

Doubts grow over India's 'next PM' Rahul Gandhi

By Penny MacRae (AFP) – 1 day ago

NEW DELHI, India — Just a few months ago, Rahul Gandhi, scion of
India's famed Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, was widely tipped as a
future prime minister -- the only question was when he would take over
the job.

Now his appeal appears to be fading amid a stumbling performance in
his campaign to be champion of the nation's poor and a string of
corruption scandals that have rocked the ruling Congress party to
which he belongs.

Gandhi, 41, drew headlines last week when he accused police in India's
most populous state Uttar Pradesh of mass killings of farmers who had
been demonstrating for greater compensation for land sales to the

Gandhi, son of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, described "a large
70-foot (21-metre pile of) ashes with dead bodies inside," adding, "We
can give you pictures" following clashes between farmers and state

"There are quite severe atrocities taking place there. People have
been killed," he said. "People are being murdered."

Days later, Congress was forced into an embarrassing retreat with
Uttar Pradesh forensic officials calling the allegations nonsense and
saying preliminary tests showed the ashes were made up of "molten
synthetic" and "cowdung ash".

"Common sense" should have told Gandhi "there is some distance between
an inflamed accusation made by agitators and reality," noted veteran
commentator M.J. Akbar.

The incident, along with the poor performances of many of his
handpicked candidates in recent state elections, raised fresh
questions about whether Gandhi is prime ministerial material.

"Rahul in Blunderland," said The Hindu newspaper in an editorial,
commenting that the "predilection" of Congress's crown prince "to
shoot from the hip is proving to be a challenge for the party."

Since India's independence from Britain in 1947, power in Congress has
threaded from Gandhi's great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, India's
first prime minister, to his grandmother Indira Gandhi, shot dead by
Sikh assassins, and then in dynastic succession to his father Rajiv,
slain by a suicide bomber.

It now rests with his Italian-born mother Sonia, seen as India's most
influential politician. She has carefully managed her son's career,
making sure he has had time to carry out his aim of learning politics
"brick by brick".

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 78, a Gandhi loyalist picked by Sonia
to lead the government, is seen as keeping the premier's seat warm for

But Gandhi's record has been lacklustre. He is not a natural orator
like his younger sister Priyanka, who has opted to raise her children
and keep out of the political frame.

He has never dealt with such thorny issues as Pakistan or the economy,
preferring to be a grassroots activist embracing populist causes.

"Rahul does not have the fire in the belly... for ruling the nation,"
wrote Aditya Sinha, editor of Mumbai's DNA newspaper, in a recent

Many pundits are betting that Gandhi will not be running to be prime
minister in 2014 when the next national elections are due, he added.

Corruption scandals, including a telecom scam alleged to have cost
close to $40 billion and last year's graft-plagued Commonwealth Games,
have taken the sheen off the mother-son duo Sonia and Rahul,
commentators say.

"Much of the muck has stuck to the Gandhis as Manmohan Singh is
considered to be personally honest and a figurehead prime minister
appointed by the Gandhis," said G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, managing
director of think-tank Development and Research Services.

Gandhi, who never has stated outright he wants to lead India, has said
becoming premier is not the only "job" in the world and there "are
many other jobs a person can do."

But Congress billboards drill home the message he is the chosen
successor, showing the elderly Singh, proud mother Sonia -- and in
front a handsome Rahul, poised to take the reins.

However, "with the gloss wearing out, Rahul Gandhi's political flight
seems to be sputtering on the tarmac before a take-off," commented


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