Rahul Gandhi's 'marriage plans' spark frenzy of gossip
Amrit Dhillon in New Delhi
A casual remark by Rahul Gandhi has led to a frenzy of gossip about India's most eligible bachelor and, perhaps, the next leader of its dominant Congress party.
The latest flutter over 38-year-old Mr Gandhi was sparked by the Press Trust of India, which reported this week that female college students in the small town of Bhatinda, in Punjab, had asked him what his marriage plans were. He replied that, while politics was a priority, 'I will get married soon'.
When the girls started asking who the woman was, Mr Gandhi's aides bundled him into a car and sped off.
Son of Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, the Congress' president, and the assassinated former prime minister Rajiv, Mr Gandhi's good looks and earnest manner have made him a prize catch for many a socially ambitious mother.
The Congress is divided on the impact of Mr Gandhi's matrimonial decision on its fortunes. One section is wary that, with a foreigner as his mother, it would be too much for Mr Gandhi's wife to also be foreign.
'It would be a lot for the party to stomach. With one foreign tag already, the party wouldn't want to add to this by having yet another foreigner as Rahul's wife,' said one Congress leader.
Another section in the party, though, believes that Sonia Gandhi killed for good the 'foreign' tag with which opponents beat her, when she renounced the post of prime minister in May 2004 after her party's victory in the general election.
'Marrying a foreigner would probably have no negative consequences. But if he married an Indian girl, it would definitely have a positive impact. It would have tremendous popular appeal,' said political columnist Manoj Joshi.
As a member of a family that has led India for generations, Mr Gandhi's choice of wife has key political significance. Mr Gandhi has admitted he fell in love while studying at Cambridge in the mid-1990s.
The name of the girl is apparently Veronique and she is Spanish.
It is not clear whether Veronique is still Mr Gandhi's girlfriend. Indian gossip columnists have been suggesting he is now seeing a Brahmin woman with a view to an arranged marriage.