Surprise at Rahul Gandhi's omission from Indian cabinet

Scion of political dynasty surprisingly left out of cabinet when PM announced major shuffle

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2012, 4:39am

A major reshuffle of India's cabinet left one question dangling: Where is Rahul Gandhi?

The scion of India's Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is not among the new ministers, meaning that if - as expected - he leads his Congress party into 2014 elections he will be running for prime minister without ever having held a government post.

"I would have been happy to include Rahul in the cabinet, but he has other preoccupations in the party," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.

Singh, a technocrat, was chosen to fill the prime minister's seat in 2004 by Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi's mother. Singh was widely seen as a regent, keeping the seat warm until Rahul - the son, grandson and great-grandson of Indian prime ministers - was ready to claim his birthright.

But Gandhi has displayed little public sign that he is undergoing any sort of apprenticeship that would prepare him for running the country.

His allies argued he was rebuilding the party at the grassroots level and has taken a lead in the Congress campaigns in state elections in Uttar Pradesh and in Bihar in recent years. Yet the party performed poorly in both elections.

Gandhi has also positioned himself as the defender of the common people, joining protesters at land rights demonstrations and even getting briefly arrested. But in moments of crisis, he has rarely taken the lead, preferring to defer to Singh or his mother. His forceful speech against corruption in Parliament last year - during a major anti-graft protest against the government - was notable for its rarity.

Political analysts say Gandhi's refusal to take a cabinet position, and be held accountable for the workings of a government ministry, could prove to be a handicap when the time comes to face the electorate.

It was also possible he did not want to be too closely associated with the current government, which has been tainted by a raft of scandals.

"Definitely, the expectations were that Rahul Gandhi would move on from being a learner and take on more responsibility," said Aarthi Ramachandran, who has written a book on him.

It would have helped Gandhi's own credibility if he had taken a position in the government or a ministry where he could have shown results, she said.