At center of opposition alliance, India’s Rahul Gandhi slows BJP juggernaut

Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader of India’s main opposition Congress party, holds a press conference at the party’s headquarter in New Delhi, India, June 4, 2024. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

NEW DELHI – Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi marked a stunning comeback on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, emerging at the center of an alliance that made deep inroads into ruling party strongholds.

The scion of India’s fabled Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, he embarked on two cross-country marches against what he called Modi’s politics of hate and fear, giving a jolt of enthusiasm to his Congress party and rehabilitating his own image.

Reduced by a Modi landslide to just 52 seats in the 543-member lower house of parliament in 2019, Congress looks well set to nearly double that tally this year, according to the vote count from the general election.

That total is likely to restrict Modi’s 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 the government.

Though it might have to sit another term out of power, Congress will have the loudest voice in a much stronger opposition, with Gandhi at its center.

As the opposition’s most prominent face, Gandhi has been a target of attacks from BJP leaders, who often call him “the prince”.

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

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

“I think Rahul Gandhi will get credit, not just for mobilization, for his marches, but also for continuously clarifying the Congress’s ideological pitch against the BJP,” said Rahul Verma, political analyst at the Centre for Policy Research think tank in New Delhi.

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


At a news conference on Tuesday, Gandhi pulled out a red-jacketed, pocket-sized version of the country’s constitution that he has referred to continuously during the campaign, and said his alliance’s performance was the “first step” in preventing Modi from attempting to change it.

Changing the constitution requires a two-thirds in parliament.

Cambridge-educated Gandhi has often said that he is battling Modi’s BJP not just to wrest power, but to defeat the party’s and its parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Hindu-first character, which he claims goes against India’s secular roots enshrined in the constitution.

BJP rejects these charges.

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

Though he guards his private life tightly, Gandhi allowed a small peek during the peak of the campaign, sharing a video of him playing with and giving belly rubs to his dog named Yassa, who he said was quite sick, leaving Gandhi “very upset and low”.

A member of parliament since 2004, Gandhi’s attendance has been far below average. His frequent absences from the chamber, and the country, have been the focus of the media and drawn BJP accusations that he does not take politics seriously.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here