From being a reluctant prince to becoming the president of the Congress party has been a long journey for 47-year-old Rahul Gandhi.
As he dons the mantle, it is a much more confident and mature Rahul who replaces his mother Sonia Gandhi as the party chief. Ms Gandhi was the longest-serving Congress chief with a 19-year-tenure at the helm.
Under Rahul''s watch, the Congress party will seek to turn around its fortunes after a string of defeats, ranging from the 2014 general elections to the assembly polls in Maharashtra, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Uttarakhand.
The Congress campaign in the 2014 general election under his leadership saw the party suffering its worst slide, winning only 44 seats compared to 206 in 2009, but there is a new spring in Rahul''s stride, as witnessed in his addresses in the recent visit to the United States and his rallies in poll- bound Gujarat. His regular interventions on the social media reflect the determination of a leader willing to give his all to vanquish the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been riding on the pied piper charm and the oratorial brilliance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Though he made his entry in politics in 2004 when he entered the Lok Sabha after winning from Amethi, the constituency represented by his father and late former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, it is only after he was made the party vice-president at the plenary session of the Indian National Congress in Jaipur in 2013 that Rahul found himself catapulted into the spotlight.
His entry into politics in 2004 raised the hope among the Congress rank and file that the entry of the youth face would reinvigorate the party''s political fortunes, especially among India''s genx, but the initial years gave an impression of Rahul being a reluctant prince.
Although he retained the family pocket borough with a victory margin of over 100,000, till 2006 he did not hold any office in the party or the government. In 2006, his sister Priyanka and he managed their mother''s campaign for re-election from Rae Bareli, which she won with a victory margin of over 400,000 votes.
Though he played a prominent role in the Congress campaign for the 2007 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the party won only 22 seats in the 403-member house with 8.53% of votes.
On September 24, 2007, Rahul was appointed General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee after a reshuffle of the party secretariat. He was also given charge of the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India.
In 2008, senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily suggested his name as the party''s candidate for the post of Prime Minister in the 2009 general elections. But Rahul continued to display reluctance to take up a bigger role in the party , preferring to work for the organisation as General Secretary.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Rahul again retained his Amethi seat, defeating his nearest rival by a margin of over 370,000 votes. He was credited with the Congress party''s revival in Uttar Pradesh, where it won 21 out of the total 80 Lok Sabha seats.
Defying the projections of pre-poll surveys, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government retained power with a bigger majority in the House of the People.
Post the party''s victory in the 2009 polls, Rahul was seen in an active role, associating himself with the cause of poor, farmers and the underprivileged across the nation.
In May 2011, he took part in the farmers agitation in UP''s Bhatta Parsaul village, which led to his arrest by the state police. He turned out in support of agitating farmers who were demanding enhanced compensation for their land being acquired for a highway project. Rahul was later given bail and dropped off at the Delhi-UP border.
Though his extensive campaigning in the 2012 Assembly elections in UP did not bear much results with the Congress relegated to the fourth slot with 28 seats, an increase of six from the 2007 polls, the Bhatta Parsaul agitation and his extensive campaigning in UP established his image as a champion of the cause of the poor and the farmers.
Rahul''s stewardship of movements to improve the condition of farmers and the poor led to increased clamour for him to take up a bigger role in the party, which led in 2013 to his being made the Congress vice-president.
Though the post 2013 period witnessed the Congress party suffer a series of losses, it also saw Rahul remain under constant spotlight as he led his party''s campaigns against the Modi government on the Land Acquisition Act, demonetisation and agrarian distress in various parts of the nation.
Over the past year, Rahul has attacked the Narendra Modi Government on the issue of demonetisation of high-value currency notes, the faulty implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and the failure of the National Democratic Alliance dispensation to ensure jobs for the youth.
Born on June 19, 1970, the scion of the high-profile Nehru-Gandhi family, received his initial education at home due to security concerns. Even after he was sent to school, he had to shift institutions.
After studying at St Stephen''s College and then Harvard and Rollins College in Florida and Trinity College, Cambridge, Rahul briefly worked at the Monitor Group, a management consulting firm in London, before he joined politics.
As he gets ready to assume the office of Congress party chief, Rahul is being increasingly viewed seriously by the BJP which has been seen to field senior ministers to respond to the charges made by him against the ruling party.
Party leaders feel that the improved performance by the Congress in the local body polls in some states recently is a reflection of the dynamic leadership provided by Rahul in recent months.
In fact, party sources say Rahul has in recent years, undergone a image makeover, which many attribute to his long sabbatical abroad last year.
His interventions on the social media are also more frequent.
Party sources say that of late, he is seen to be more accessible to party workers.
In recent months, Rahul has targeted Prime Minister Modi in campaign rallies as well as on the social media.
This is also reflected in the increase of his Twitter following to 4.71 million.
A victory in Gujarat which is witnessing a close fight between the Congress party and the BJP and a likely win in Himachal could reaffirm the faith of the Congress party in Rahul''s leadership.
It will also set the stage for the Congress to take on the so-called Modi wave in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
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