India's Rahul Gandhi appointed president of Congress party
December 11 2017 02:50 PM
Indian supporters of the Congress Party shout slogans after the party named Rahul Gandhi president,
Indian supporters of the Congress Party shout slogans after the party named Rahul Gandhi president, outside Congress headquarters in New Delhi. AFP

Reuters/New Delhi

* Rahul Gandhi takes over from his mother, Sonia Gandhi
* Elevation comes ahead of key state polls
* Prepares to challenge dominance of Prime Minister Modi

India's main opposition Congress party on Monday elevated Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the country's most fabled political dynasty, as its president, preparing to challenge the dominance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of national polls in 2019.
In a long-awaited move, Gandhi, the great-grandson of India's founding prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, was elected unopposed to head the party. He will take the reins from his mother Sonia, the party's longest-serving president, since 1998.
"The entire Indian National Congress family would like to convey our best wishes to incoming President Rahul Gandhi, and wish him a successful tenure as he continues to lead from the front," the party said on its official Twitter handle.
Television broadcast images of party supporters celebrating the news outside Congress offices in the capital, New Delhi, and the financial hub of Mumbai.
Ever since Congress was defeated heavily in the 2014 national election by Modi's party, Gandhi has struggled to convince voters, as well as many within his party, of his leadership skills.
But Gandhi was now geared up for the next challenge, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said on Monday.
"The entire country has lots of expectations from Rahul Gandhi," Azad told reporters. "Much before he was elected he has shown his mettle. He knows his responsibility."
Modi's depiction of the 47-year-old as an undeserving "prince" has helped sideline Gandhi since the last national election, during which time Congress has suffered some of its worst results in local elections.
The news coincides with state polls in Modi's western home state of Gujarat that are shaping as a test for the prime minister, who has been facing criticism for slowing economic growth and poor implementation of a nationwide sales tax.
The Congress hopes a round of state elections offers the party, and Gandhi, a shot at revival ahead of the next national elections, due in 2019.
Still, Modi remains immensely popular.
Nearly nine of 10 Indians have a favourable opinion of him and more than two-thirds are satisfied with the direction in which he is taking the country, a Pew survey found in November.
Modi's favourable rating was 30 points more than Gandhi's, the poll showed.

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