Saturday, 9 July 2011

Widescreen: Rahul Gandhi's 'padyatra'

He is the undisputed crown prince of India's ruling Congress, seen to bide his time before taking over the reins of government from an ageing Manmohan Singh. 
As Rahul Gandhi prepares to hold a rally in Uttar Pradesh's Aligarh town Saturday, his movements are being watched closely to see whether the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family has the political magnetism and intellectual substance to shoulder the responsibility he seems destined for.

At 41, Rahul Gandhi, the son of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, knows that there are high expectations of him - particularly when there is a wobbling government whose public image is at an all-time low.

But his sporadic and uncertain political actions and even rarer public utterances often fed the doubt of sceptics. Could he really lead the party challenge in the general elections three years away?
So when he slipped into the twin villages of Bhatta Parsaul, at the edge of the capital, to commiserate with farmers whose land had been forcibly taken away for infrastructure projects, people dismissed it initially as a gimmick.

But the fourth-generation prime minister-in-waiting in a country that prides itself on its democracy and yet indulges in dynastic politics proved he had other plans.
He initially sought permission for a farmer's rally in the Muslim dominated town of Aligarh. The Uttar Pradesh government initially wavered but then granted permission. That was when Gandhi pulled out another card.
Gandhi announced in Bhatta Prasaul that he would undertake a 'padyatra' (walkathon) through the villages lying along the Expressway - linking Greater Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi to Agra for which the government had acquired land - 'to understand the psyche of the farmers'. Thus, there is much at stake when he takes to the stage in Aligarh to address a 'kisan mahapanchayat' (farmer's rally) at the culmination of the padyatra.

Gandhi is clearly aware that the road to New Delhi lies through India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which will elect a new assembly next year. If he delivers, it would take him one step closer to the prime minister's chair. The reverse would definitely be a setback.

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