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Faith in Gandhi dynasty wavers

Updated: 2014-04-04 07:13
By Agence France-Presse in Amethi, India ( China Daily)

Schoolteacher Arun Singh said he will vote once again for Rahul Gandhi as his member of Parliament in India's upcoming election, but more out of loyalty than conviction.

"The roads are bad, water is scarce and power fluctuates - not much has changed in the last 10 years," Singh said.

"Despite that, everybody, including myself, will vote for the Gandhi family, not particularly because of Rahul."

For more than 30 years, the people of Amethi, a poor, wheat-growing region dotted with hamlets, have turned out to elect different members of India's most famous clan.

Would-be prime minister Rahul Gandhi followed in the footsteps of his uncle, mother and father in becoming the area's member of Parliament, winning thumping victories there in 2004 and 2009.

But even here, in the most partisan of spots in Uttar Pradesh state, 600 kilometers east of Delhi, echoes can be heard of the doubts raised in the capital about the 43-year-old's leadership.

Many say the mild-mannered bachelor is inaccessible and a rare visitor. Others wonder what he has achieved over 10 years of representing his 1.2 million constituents.

With some surveys predicting the worst-ever result for the ruling Congress party in elections, which begin on Monday, its vice-president and unofficial prime ministerial candidate faces unprecedented pressure.

Few would predict the demise of a family that has rebounded from defeats before, yet there are warning signs for a bloodline that has run India for most of its 67 years since independence.

'Bond with the people'

In Uttar Pradesh state elections in 2012, Congress lost three out of five assembly seats in Amethi, and all five in neighboring Rae Bareli, represented by Rahul's mother, Sonia, president of the party since 1998.

A recent poll found only 50 percent of Indians had a favorable view of Rahul Ghandi compared with 78 percent for election front-runner Narendra Modi, a hard-line Hindu nationalist from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

And as he seeks a third term in Parliament, Ghandi faces a challenge from a new anti-corruption party whose candidate has been touring Amethi with a yellow truck fitted with loud-speakers.

"I am against the dynasty rule," said Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party candidate Kumar Vishwas, a well-known poet.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has named its candidate in Amethi as Smriti Irani, a popular former TV personality who made her name playing a righteous housewife in an award-winning soap opera.

Despite the competition, Ghandi's campaign manager is confident of victory.

"The Gandhi family has a relationship with this constituency for 40 years," said Chandrakant Dubey. "They have a very close bond and the people of Amethi understand this."

Though the family name appears to weigh heavily on Ghandi's shoulders - for years many doubted his ambition - party colleagues have little inclination to imagine a future without the Gandhi-Nehru imprimatur.

Jawaharlal Nehru was India's first prime minister, and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, ruled for four terms before she was succeeded by her son, Rajiv Ghandi, Rahul Ghandi's father. Both Indira and Rajiv Ghandi were assassinated.

None has any relation to Mohandas Gandhi, the famed independence leader considered the father of the nation.

As the only national and secular party and one containing great ideological diversity, Cabinet minister and author on the family Shashi Tharoor argues that Congress needs the Gandhis as a figurehead.

What Rahul Ghandi is not, however, is well-tested or battle-hardened.

He has shunned the press and rarely speaks in Parliament. Despite leading campaigning in recent state polls, the Congress party has suffered repeated setbacks.

(China Daily 04/04/2014 page11)