BREAKINGVIEWS - India's interminable wait for its next Gandhi

Mon Oct 29, 2012 1:24pm IST

Rahul Gandhi, a lawmaker and son of ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, smiles as he speaks with the media in New Delhi March 6, 2012. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma/Files

Rahul Gandhi, a lawmaker and son of ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, smiles as he speaks with the media in New Delhi March 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Parivartan Sharma/Files

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(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

By Andy Mukherjee

SINGAPORE (Reuters Breakingviews) - Rahul Gandhi is keeping India waiting. The country's Congress Party, embattled by allegations of corruption and mismanagement, was hoping the 42-year-old would lay down a blueprint of clean, youthful governance before projecting him as its prime ministerial candidate in 2014 elections. But he decided not to join Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's cabinet, which was probably reshuffled for the last time on October 28. The lack of a track record in government will continue to make it difficult for investors to assess the policies Gandhi is likely to pursue if he does become prime minister.

There is no sign yet that Gandhi is unwilling to stake his claim to a position also held by his great-grandfather, grandmother and father. But willingness alone is no longer enough. Though the family name is still supreme within the Congress Party, it is increasingly irrelevant in the country. Despite Gandhi's efforts in directing the party's campaign in assembly polls this year in the most-populous state of Uttar Pradesh, the Congress took a drubbing.

The government needed Gandhi for more than a charm offensive. The current administration has lost credibility as a keeper of public assets ever since a top court struck down a 2008 allocation of telecom spectrum at throwaway prices. More recently, the CAG has questioned arbitrary distribution of coal-mining rights. Then there's cronyism. Anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal has accused DLF, the country's largest property developer, of extending financial favours to Robert Vadra, who's married to Rahul Gandhi's sister. Vadra and DLF have denied any wrongdoing.

Even though he has been a member of parliament since 2004, not much is known about the younger Gandhi's ideas for the economy. Investors don't know how he would attract $1 trillion in infrastructure investments and revive GDP growth. Nor is it clear if, given a chance, Gandhi would try to control the ballooning budget deficit, or if he would merely follow in his mother Sonia's footsteps and further expand the welfare state. If Gandhi is an aspiring prime minister, he needs to spell out his vision. And if he isn't ready for the greatness his party wants to thrust upon him, he should just say so.

CONTEXT NEWS

- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rejigged about a third of his 30-member cabinet on October 28, and reshuffled a number of key portfolios, including, oil, foreign policy, railways and justice. As part of the image makeover, he also brought in younger junior ministers who will not hold cabinet-level posts. Notably absent from the new names was Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has governed India for much of the 65 years.

[To read -- Cabinet reshuffle: New cabinet ministers, MoS & other changes, click here]

(Editing by Peter Thal Larsen and Katrina Hamlin)

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