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India election 2024 profiles: Rahul Gandhi, still looking for a win over Modi

The leader, who has served as the MP from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh for three consecutive terms, lost to the BJP’s Smriti Irani in 2019 but retained his parliamentary seat from Wayanad in Kerala.

Indian National Congress leader Rahul Gandhi (ANI Photo)

By: Shubham Ghosh

INDIA, the world’s largest democracy, is headed for the national election soon and all political parties of the country — large and small — have kicked off preparations for the major battle of the ballots.

While prime minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are eyeing their third successive term in office, the opposition, despite their successive electoral debacle, have come together to form a fresh alliance to prevent the Hindu nationalist forces from coming to power again.

Here, India Weekly makes a profile of Rahul Gandhi, one of India’s prominent political leaders from the opposition Indian National Congress who has been tirelessly making efforts challenging the Modi government despite achieving very little electoral success.

Rahul Gandhi, Indian National Congress

Rahul Gandhi, who hails from one of India’s major political families, has not succeeded in defeating prime minister Modi despite spearheading his party in two national elections — in 2014 and 2019. For the critics, the 53-year-old leader is a leader who has failed his party and followers, but for several of his supporters, he is still the best man to beat Modi in office.

Read: India election 2024 profiles: Narendra Modi, the leader who never lost a poll

Born to former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi, Rahul Gandhi is often called a reluctant politician who has struggled to connect to the voters like Modi. He is often made a subject of ridicule by leaders of the ruling party and sometimes, even by some other opposition parties that aim to fulfil their own national goals at the expense of Gandhi’s Grand-Old Party.

Read: Modi’s BJP unveils 1st candidate list for 2024 election; PM eyes Varanasi hat-trick

But yet, Rahul Gandhi cannot be completely ignored. Having received his education in India and in prestigious western institutes such as Harvard and Cambridge, Rahul Gandhi worked in a management consultant firm in London for three years before joining politics. He returned to India in 2002 to set up his own technology firm in the western city of Mumbai.

During the 2019 national election, Gandhi was targeted by Modi’s BJP over a report saying that a co-promoter of his UK firm — Backops Limited — had acquired defence offsets when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power in New Delhi between 2004 and 2014. Gandhi reportedly owned 65 per cent share in the company which was founded in 2003 and dissolved in 2009.

In 2004, Gandhi joined politics and contested the election that year from the constituency of Amethi in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The seat was known to be a bastion of the Gandhi family as besides Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi’s uncle Sanjay Gandhi had held it in the past. Gandhi won the election and became a parliamentarian at the age of 34.

In 2007, Rahul Gandhi became the general secretary of the All India Congress Committee, the governing body of the Congress besides taking charge of the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India — bodies that include the party’s youth and student community.

The leader contested the 2009 election from Amethi and he not only won the seat but was also credited for his party’s revival in the key state of Uttar Pradesh where it won 21 out of 80 seats and formed the government in New Delhi for the second successive time. He also led his party’s campaign in the Uttar Pradesh state polls in 2012 and although the Congress did not do well, it still managed to increase its tally from six to 28 in the state.

Gandhi contested the 2014 and 2019 elections from Amethi again but while he won the first one against Smriti Irani, India’s current women and child development minister, he lost the second one against the same opponent. However, he also contested the 2019 election from the constituency of Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala where he won and retained his MP post.

While Gandhi’s public image has been largely clean, allegations of corruption were brought against him and his mother by BJP leader Subramanian Swami in 2012, who was then a Janata Party leader. He had accused the Gandhis of using their party funds and taking over Associated Journals Limited, which published the now-defunct National Herald newspaper, which was started in 1938 by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Rahul’s great grandfather. According to Swami, the Gandhis tried to acquire over Rs 20 billion in property assets. The Congress reacted saying it was a case of “political vendetta”.

In March 2023, Gandhi was convicted and given two years imprisonment by a court in Surat in the western state of Gujarat over remarks that he had made against PM Modi during an election rally in 2019 where he said “All Modis are thieves”. He had compared the prime minister with fugitive economic offenders such as Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi. Gandhi was also disqualified as the MP and was made ineligible to contest the 2024 general election. However, he returned as the MP in August 2023 when his conviction was stayed by the Supreme Court of India.

Rahul Gandhi has taken out two pan-Indian march programmes to mobilise public opinion in favour of his party which has failed to win many electoral battles against Modi’s BJP. In September 2022, he took out the Bharat Jodo Yatra connecting India’s southern and northern ends while in January 2024, he launched Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra to cover a east-to-west journey.

He has played a leading role in the formation of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance featuring a number of opposition parties to challenge Modi and his BJP in the upcoming election.

Rahul Gandhi’s electoral record

April-May 2004: Won in Amethi in national elections by 290,853 votes

April-May 2009: Won in Amethi in national elections by 370,198 votes

April-May 2014: Won in Amethi in national elections by 107,903 votes

April May 2019: Lost in Amethi in national elections by 55,120 votes

April-May 2019: Won in Wayanad in general elections by 431,770

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