New Delhi: Catapulted to the top rung of Congress leadership, the party's youth icon Rahul Gandhi, touted as the future prime minister, faces the daunting task of reversing the slide in its support base and harvest the soaring young population into its voters. A fourth-generation scion of the politically powerful Nehru Gandhi family, 42-year-old Rahul's place under the sun has highlighted the party's lack of alternatives and its continuing reliance on the first political family for leadership and direction.
Rahul, an AICC General Secretary before being elevated to the post of Vice-President, raised his political profile and emerged from his parents' shadow in charting UPA's return to power in 2009 and helping the party's resurgence in Uttar Pradesh. He brought the most unexpected cheer to Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and the party will now look up to him for a hat-trick at the Centre.
The Congress MP from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, widely credited for bringing young faces in the Congress at the grassroot level, has been learning the political ropes by spending time in his constituency and other villages. After helping Congress in bagging 21 out of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, his party's showing in the 2012 Assembly elections in the crucial state came as a dampener despite extensively campaigning.
The party came a disappointing fourth in the elections which was swept by Mulayam Yadav's Samajwadi party. Born on June 19, 1970, the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his Italian-born widow, Sonia was seen as a shy man whose interests lay more in cricket matches and the outdoors than in political life. His decision to enter formal politics before the 2004 general election therefore took many by surprise.
During his nine-year-long political career, Rahul, a bachelor, often faced criticism that his views on a range of crucial issues were largely unknown. Despite this criticism, some analysts and his party colleagues are of the view he has a detailed political knowledge and a practised backroom operator.
In 2004, Rahul decided to contest the Lok Sabha polls from the traditional family constituency of Amethi which his father Rajiv had once held. He won the seat again in 2009. But the Congress' dismal showing in the Assembly segments of neighbouring Gandhi constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareli in last year's Assembly elections came as a shock to the first political
Despite his reserved style, Rahul is worshipped as a living God in his constituency where his visits often resembled religious festivals. Rahul appeared to be a big draw among new, young voters which may have contributed in the good showing by Congress in UP in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Rahul, who was named one of the general secretaries of the Congress in 2007, has always turned down appeals to play a more high-profile Congress party role. "My place right now is among our people, my place right now is to learn and understand so I can serve my people and party better," he had once said. Predictably enough, many within the Congress party saw his move into politics as positive. But doubts were often raised on his ability to turn the support he has received from his party into votes.
In 2007, he played a major role in Congress' campaigning in elections in the biggest state of UP. But the party failed to reverse its declining fortunes there. The following year, he kicked off a campaign called the "Discovery of India", aimed at winning over hearts and minds and projecting himself as a future leader.
Rahul's first brush with the law came when he was arrested by the UP police on May 11 2011 at Bhatta Parsaul village after he turned out in support of agitating farmers demanding more compensation for their land being acquired for a highway project. BSP leader Mayawati was in power at that time.
Handsome and charming, Rahul went to the finest Indian schools. Later he studied economics in the US and worked in London before returning to work in Mumbai (Bombay) in 2002.