This Article is From Dec 17, 2018

Rahul Gandhi Completes First Year As Congress Chief Amid Poll Victories

2019 Lok Sabha Elections: Rahul Gandhi took over the reins of the Congress from his mother Sonia Gandhi this day last year and brought the party to power in six states.

Rahul Gandhi Completes First Year As Congress Chief Amid Poll Victories

Rahul Gandhi has positioned himself as the direct challenger to PM Narendra Modi (File Photo)

New Delhi:

Electoral revival in major Hindi heartland states and democratisation of Congress party's organizations were the hallmarks of Rahul Gandhi's first year as the party president.

Mr Gandhi took over the reins of the Congress from his mother Sonia Gandhi this day last year and brought the party to power in six states.

When he assumed charge, the party was in power in four states -- Karnataka, Punjab, Mizoram and Puducherry.

Positioning himself as the direct challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom he has been routinely attacking over the Rafale jet purchase, Mr Gandhi is now preparing the Congress for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections by engaging like-minded parties and leading discussions on issues of national importance.

On Sunday, DMK president MK Stalin made a strong pitch for Mr Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate of the opposition for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, saying the he has the ability to defeat the BJP-led NDA.

However, there were reservation in the opposition camp on the suggestion with many parties including the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, BSP and the NCP learnt to have insisting on not naming any opposition prime ministerial candidate until the declaration of results of the Lok Sabha polls.

After Mr Gandhi became the party chief, he faced the first challenge of Gujarat elections where the Congress put up a stiff resistance to the BJP, coming close to the ruling party, though the BJP emerged victorious.

The Gujarat fight might not have dethroned the BJP but infused Congress cadres with vigour as the message went around that BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not invincible.

Mr Gandhi's new style of uniting the organization to take on rivals led to the Congress winning Lok Sabha by-election one after the other. Soon, the Congress came to power in Karnataka, with the help of the Janata Dal (Secular), and then bagged three crucial states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the just-concluded assembly polls.

The Congress also won Punjab and Puducherry. The new Congress chief has also initiated the policy of democratizing Congress by opening it up to discussions and engaging state leaders with the result that youth leader Sachin Pilot was inducted as deputy chief minister in Rajasthan after he staked his claim on the chief minister's post on grounds that he worked hard as the party's state chief.

Earlier known to bat for the young, Mr Gandhi preferred to go with the old guard in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh choosing experience over youth after factoring in the urgency of holding on in these states until 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Today, as he completed the first year as the Congress chief, Mr Gandhi reiterated his commitment to building a strong, united and a vibrant party.

"On the 1st anniversary of taking over as Congress President, I reiterate my commitment to building a strong, united and vibrant Congress party. I am overwhelmed by the greetings and messages I've received today and thank each and every one of you for your affection and support," he posted on Twitter on Sunday.

The victory in three big states has put the Congress back in the race for the next general elections considering 59 of the 65 lawmakers in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh are from the BJP today.

Mr Gandhi's leadership saw some upsets too. The Congress lost its last bastion in the northeast with Mizoram going to MNF on December 11.

Earlier the party had lost power in Meghalaya. The 48-year-old is the fifth member of the Gandhi-Nehru family to head the grand old party, earlier led by eminent people like Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Mr Gandhi has also helped retrieve lost ground among the Hindu voters by resorting to soft Hindutva and frequent temple visits.

He undertook the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra this year and presented himself as a "Shiv bhakt", a "Janeyu-dhaari Dattatreya Kaul Brahmin" to shed Congress' pro-minority tag. Under Mr Gandhi, Congress' communication strategy improved significantly with the party launching major offensives against the Narendra Modi-led NDA government.

The party also occupied the social media space in a big way. Mr Gandhi passed his first test of leadership while selecting the chief ministers in three major states it won on December 11.

Despite evident divisions between state leaders, he ensured unity before announcing the names of chief ministers.

In a unique gesture, he also brought that unity on record by posting on Twitter, photos with the chief minister contenders in each state.

His next big challenge would be to stitch viable anti-BJP alliances for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.