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Rahul Gandhi extends family grip on India's Congress party

  • Published at 06:27 pm December 16th, 2017
Rahul Gandhi extends family grip on India's Congress party

India's Rahul Gandhi took over on Saturday as president of the 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 premier Narendra Modi.

Rahul, 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," Gandhi said in his acceptance speech which quickly became an attack on 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.

Gandhi was elected unopposed to take over from his mother Sonia who has been at the helm since 1998 following the assassination of her husband Rajiv. She helped the 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.

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 Modi's BJP.

Since then, the party has lost polls in many key states to the BJP, exposing Gandhi to further criticism.

"Personal attacks on my son have made him fearless. I am sure he will lead the party with exemplary courage," Sonia said to loud applause from party supporters who arrived in busloads for the ceremony.

Slogans of "long live Rahul" were shouted as hundreds of supporters danced and burst firecrackers.

 
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