India's leader-in-waiting humbled by poll disaster

Rahul Gandhi accepts blame for Congress Party's poor showing in state elections

Delhi

His great-grandfather was India's first prime minister. His grandmother was the country's first – and thus far only – woman leader. And his father was the nation's youngest leader.

But yesterday Rahul Gandhi, the flag-bearer of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled the world's largest democracy for most of its 65 years of independence, was forced to accept responsibility for a humiliating defeat as his Congress Party was trounced in state elections that many saw as a referendum on him as a future leader.

The 41-year-old politician had placed himself front and centre of the Congress's attempt to rejuvenate itself after a series of high-profile scandals , especially in the country's largest and politically most important state, Uttar Pradesh (UP). But last night he had few options other than shouldering the blame after things went disastrously wrong at the polls.

"I accept responsibility for the fact that we did not perform well," he said. "After all, I was the main campaigner... the Congress Party fought well, but the result is not good." He delivered the remarks while standing outside the official Delhi residence of his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who is president of the party. The Italian-born Ms Gandhi turned down the prime minister's post when the Congress came to power in Delhi in 2004. "I promised to the people of UP that I will be seen with the poor, on the roads and fields," Mr Gandhi said. "My work will continue. My efforts will be to re-erect the Congress in UP."

On this most disappointing of days for the Congress, it was difficult not to notice the visual details that jarred. Mr Gandhi was unshaven and dressed in a simple white cotton shirt. When he had finished addressing the media, he walked into the consolatory embrace of his sister, Priyanka. And yet they both failed. His attempt to market himself as a champion of the down-trodden, someone willing to spend a night in the hut of a Dalit, or "untouchable", did not resonate sufficiently in a state where many of the health and nutrition indicators are no better than in sub-Saharan Africa.

Likewise, for all the hype within the Indian media about the purported "star power" of the Gandhi family, especially Priyanka, the Congress was badly beaten in those specific areas of UP where Mr Gandhi and his mother hold seats in the national parliament and where his sister vigorously campaigned on his behalf.

No one can accuse Mr Gandhi of not trying hard enough. During the election campaign, he spoke at more than 200 rallies, hurling himself into a frenetic schedule as he toured the state by helicopter. Valerian Rodrigues, a professor of political science of Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, said he believed the result in UP and elsewhere – the Congress also lost in Goa and Punjab and the outcome was unclear in Uttarakhand – was the result of disillusionment with the national government rather than Mr Gandhi himself. Allegations of corruption, political deadlock and an apparent lack of direction appear to have angered voters. "It is a statement about governance," Professor Rodrigues said. "The Congress is not an impressive party."

There is little doubt that the result is also a body blow to the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, already seen as stumbling, two years away from the next general election. A decent result in UP would have boosted the government's ability to press ahead with reforms. As it is, the result has raised questions about the party's mandate.

In UP, Mr Gandhi had set out to see the incumbent chief minister, Mayawati, who draws her supporters from among the poorest sections of society, roundly defeated. That happened, but it was the rival socialist Samajwadi Party (SP) that stepped in to secure a simple majority in the state assembly.

While Congress did manage to increase its share of the overall vote, it only managed to increase its tally of seats in the UP assembly from 22 to 38.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Life and Style
life
Sport
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
football
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
News
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn