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NEW DELHI: India’s opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, derided by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters for a decade as a self-righteous dynast, marked a stunning comeback on Tuesday, emerging at the center of an alliance that has made major inroads into ruling party strongholds.

A scion of India’s famous Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, he has embarked on two cross-country campaigns against what he calls Modi’s politics of hate and fear, impressing his Congress party and rebuilding his own image.

Having been reduced to just 52 seats in the 543-member lower house of Parliament in 2019 due to Modi’s fall, the Congress looks set to almost double that number this year, he says
general election vote count.

That total is likely to limit Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to less than the 272 seats needed to win a majority on its own, and it will have to rely on allies to form a government.

Although it may have to stay out of power for another term, the Congress will have the loudest voice in a much stronger opposition, with Gandhi at its core.

As the most prominent face of the opposition, Gandhi has been the target of attacks from Modi and other BJP leaders, who often refer to him as “the prince”.

Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers.

During the campaign, Gandhi, with close-cropped black hair and unkempt salt-and-pepper stubble, criss-crossed the country as the main face of his party, even though the Congress is led by family loyalist Mallikarjun Kharge.

“I think Rahul Gandhi will get credit, not only for mobilizing, for his marches, but also for constantly clarifying the ideological position of the Congress against the BJP,” said Rahul Verma, a political analyst at the Center for Policy Research think tank in New Delhi.

“If there was ever a moment when Gandhi really emerged, it is now,” he said.

THE FIGHT AGAINST HATRED

At a press conference on Tuesday, Gandhi pulled out a pocket version of the country’s constitution in a red jacket, which he had referred to throughout the campaign, and said his alliance’s appearance was the “first step” in thwarting Modi’s attempt to change it.

Amendments to the constitution require two-thirds support in parliament.

Cambridge-educated Gandhi has often said he is not fighting Modi’s BJP, not just to take power, but to defeat the Hindu character of the party and its parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which contradicts with India’s secular roots enshrined in the Constitution.

“My fight is with the ideology of RSS and BJP, which is a threat to our country. The hatred these people are spreading, the violence they are spreading, I am fighting against it… This is the battle of my life for me,” he said at a party event two years ago.

The BJP denies these allegations.

Single at 53, a trained pilot like his father and a certified scuba diver, Gandhi is known as a fitness and martial arts enthusiast and has been seen cycling through New Delhi’s leafy avenues accompanied by security guards.

Although closely guarding his private life, Gandhi allowed a sneak peek during the height of the campaign and shared a video of him playing with his dog named Yassa and rubbing his belly, which he said was very sick, making Gandhi ” very upset and low.”

An MP since 2004, Gandi’s visit was far below average. His frequent absences from the chamber and the state have been the focus of media attention and the BJP has accused him of not taking politics seriously.

COMPARED TO THE KENNEDYS

Gandhi was never a minister in the federal or state government and did not lead his Congress party to victory in general elections.

The Congress was the largest national political party with a nationwide footprint of 1.4 billion people until it was overtaken by the BJP in 2014.

Outside Parliament, Gandhi often reminded his supporters of his family’s commitment and sacrifices, talking about the assassinations of his grandmother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and his father and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The Gandhi family still dominates the Congress and is very loyal.

A political dynasty that has been compared to the Kennedys in the United States for both the power it enjoyed and the tragedies it befell began with Motilal Nehru, who practiced law in the early 20th century and abandoned the Western way of life , to become the President of the Congress Party.

His son Jawaharlal was the closest confidant and Prime Minister of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi from 1947 to 1964.

Jawaharlal’s daughter Indira married Gandhi, who was not related to the Mahatma, but the name was certainly no obstacle in politics. Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1966, but was elected in 1977 after the imposition of severe internal emergency in the country, becoming the first of her family to lose a national election.

But the mystique of the dynasty brought her back to power within three years and her son Rajiv took over after she was shot by two bodyguards in 1984. Rajiv Gandhi served one term as prime minister and was assassinated by a suicide bomber in 1991 when he campaigned for a comeback.

These murders make Rahul, his mother Sonia and sister Priyanka among the most protected people in the world. At public events they are guarded by armed men in suits and dark glasses, and for security reasons Rahul even used a false name at university and when he worked in London at the turn of the century.

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