At AICC session, he makes an emotional speech recalling his family’s contribution

Critics — and there are many of them — may question his credentials. The media have described Rahul Gandhi becoming vice-president of the Congress as a case of “coronation” of the “yuvraj” — an extreme application of dynastic politics in a democracy. On Sunday, Rahul Gandhi often invoked his dynastic credentials in his speech at the AICC session — but in a manner that moved and energised his party colleagues who were quickly hoping that the effect would have rubbed off on the ordinary voters, too. Mr. Gandhi then swiftly proceeded to call for sweeping changes in the party and government and make a strong pitch for a rule-bound party organisation where party workers, not outsiders, would get importance.

In his first speech as the de-facto number two of the Congress, Mr. Gandhi recalled how his father was “broken” by his mother’s death — gunned down by guards with whom Rahul used to play badminton. There was enough of the Gandhi-Nehru family nostalgia to move his audience — including hard-bitten veterans sitting on stage — to tears and a standing ovation. But in the 40-minute-long speech, he also spoke of the need to decentralize power, strengthen panchayati raj institutions and use technology to ensure transparency. The system, he said, needed to accommodate the voices of the people, and ensure the participation of the aam aadmi in the decision-making process, which is currently the preserve of a few people working behind closed doors in Delhi. For the last two days, the under 45s spoke loudly and clearly in the five chintan shivir sessions, reflecting the concerns of a young India, the one that has dominated recent street protests and social media chatrooms. If an excited young MoS told The Hindu that “the message of these three days is Rahul Gandhi,” a more seasoned cabinet minister described Rahul Gandhi’s as India’s “Obama moment of 2008”. That is hyperbole, and some senior leaders cautioned that the impact of Mr Gandhi’s elevation was yet to be judged. But it couldn’t be denied that Mr. Gandhi had succeeded in energising the delegates — if not the whole party — who repeatedly interrupted his speech with rousing cheers. And when he sat down, younger delegates rushed to the stage as party seniors hugged him.

If the new vice president spoke of the pitfalls of power, he also spoke of hope: as a child, he said he learnt to play badminton “to bring some balance” into his life. His teachers were two policemen who later assassinated his grandmother — and he lost that balance. When he accompanied his father, Rajiv Gandhi, to hospital, he recalled, he was “broken inside and, like me, terrified of what lay in front of him. But when he addressed the nation on television that night, I felt a small glimmer of hope…. that small ray of hope in the darkness helped change India into what it is today.” Without hope, Mr. Gandhi said, nothing could be achieved.

If Mr. Gandhi moved his listeners to tears with his talk of power as a poisoned chalice and the transformative qualities of hope – even when born in despair — he also moved them to laughter as he mocked the Congress where rules are regularly given the go-by. “People often ask, how does this party run?” and then when all looks lost; it comes back with a bang.” The party’s secret weapon? “It is Gandhiji’s party, and India is in its DNA.”

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