Rahul Gandhi takes charge

Rahul Gandhi takes charge

INDIA - Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi appears to have finally put his stamp of authority on his role as leader of the ruling Congress party, with a stunning public repudiation of a government decision to protect politicians convicted of crimes.

After Mr Gandhi's scathing remarks at a press conference that the ordinance should be "torn up and thrown away", Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who returns from the United States tomorrow, said that he and his Cabinet would revisit it.

Party leaders who had been defending the move to skirt a Supreme Court decision to ban criminal politicians from keeping their jobs, swiftly reversed course as well. The ordinance is likely to be withdrawn this week.

"His (Mr Gandhi's) view is now the official view of the Congress party... Situations evolve," said Congress spokesman Ajay Maken.

Analysts said the ordinance is dead and see Mr Gandhi's intervention as a clear sign that he is ready to lead the party into the 2014 elections.

"They (Congress party) have sent a clear message that Rahul Gandhi is supreme in the party and government through this intervention," said Professor Sudhir Panwar with the University of Lucknow. "There is no way this ordinance will see the light of day."

The Congress party depends on the Gandhi family for leadership. Four of India's 14 prime ministers have been members of the Gandhi-Nehru clan.

Mr Rahul Gandhi's great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, his grandmother Indira and father Rajiv were all prime ministers.

Even the party's electoral victory in 2004 was scripted by Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv's widow, who united a divided party. She won further acclaim for spurning the prime minister post herself after opposition parties highlighted her Italian roots.

Instead, she nominated Mr Manmohan Singh, an arrangement that has now lasted through both terms of the Congress coalition.

But India's most powerful politician, now 66, has been in poor health since last year, flying to the US for regular check-ups since undergoing surgery there for an undisclosed ailment in 2011, and leaders have been eager for her 43-year-old son to take charge.

For most of his eight years in politics, Mr Gandhi has been reluctant to embrace power, declining to take top posts in the party and Cabinet.

It was not until January this year that he accepted the post of vice-president, making him second-in-command of the party.

And it was not until last Friday that he was seen to have finally taken control of the party's leadership, breaking his silence on policy issues and taking on a government decision even if seen to be at the cost of the Prime Minister.

"Openly shows who is boss," said a headline in The Times of India, while The Indian Express said, "Rahul tears ordinance and PM".

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