Formally taking over the mantle of the 132-year-old Indian National Congress, the country’s oldest party, Rahul Gandhi, 47, gave a pep talk to party workers on Saturday, telling Congress cadres to stand up to “regressive” BJP and accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “taking India back to medieval times”.Launching a direct attack on Modi, he said: “Congress took India to the 21st century, but today the PM is taking us back to the medieval times, where you hear and see killings, hate, and fires everyday. Nobody else seems to have a voice except him.”Accusing the BJP of promoting hate and violence, he said: ” These regressive forces win not because they deserve to but because they are powerful and misuse that power.”Claiming that Congress was different from BJP, he said that his party, known as the ‘grand old party’, so far, will now become the ‘grand old new party’.The new party president, the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to lead the political outfit, has taken charge from his mother at a time when the party is facing one of its worst crises, with the BJP occupying the centrestage of national politics and getting increasingly robust in states.At a time when the Congress has left a trail of defeats in a series of state polls, starting with its worst ever debacle in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Rahul underlined the need for party workers to connect with the people. He said he wanted the Congress to become an “instrument for dialogue between Indian people from all corners, religions, ethnicities, ages, genders, and for our dialogue to always be led by love and affection”.The Congress president, who has often accused the ruling BJP of doing ‘politics of polarisation’, also advised party workers to eschew negativity.He also said that while the BJP wanted to wipe the Congress from the country’s political map, the Congress considered BJP members its brothers and sisters. “They want an India free of Congress, they want to erase us but the Congress’s inclusion and respect for all Indians extends even to the BJP. We do not fight hate with hate. They crush voice, we allow the most vulnerable to sing. They defame, we respect and defend. They might control the structures of power, the machinery of silence and fear, but we in the Congress, we are the bastion of the people. It is in this service that my idealism, your idealism, and our hope for politics always rests,” he said.Rahul, who had at the time of his elevation as party vice-president in 2013 recalled his mother Sonia Gandhi telling him that “power is poison”, on Saturday told party workers that “like many Indians across the country, I am an idealist”.Gandhi’s elevation, which had been the anvil ever since Sonia Gandhi underwent a surgery in the US in 2011, marks a generational shift in the party that is battling uncertainties both within and without, mainly in the form of onslaughts of its bitter rival, BJP.Speaking to party workers for the first time as the president, Rahul said he entered politics 13 years ago because of his “profound belief in this country”.”When I joined politics as a 34 year old, I came into this world having watched the generation before me fight the structures of oppression, the structures whose very fuel is lies and silence. When I entered politics 13 years ago, I wished to be a part of the awakening that would transform India at home, by ensuring dignity for all its people, and in the world, where we would step into a role that resonated globally,” he said.He further said that the party must never back down when under attack from the BJP. He urged the workers to stand up to them and that “their anger and hatred makes all of us stronger”.The function, in which returning officers Mullappally Ramachandran and Bhubaneswar Kalita gave Rahul the certificate of winning the election, also saw the presence of former PM Manmohan Singh, Motilal Vora, Janardan Dwivedi, and Madhusudan Mistry on the dais. While handing him over the certificate, Ramachandran reminded Rahul that the office he was going to occupy was once occupied by a “galaxy of stalwarts”, including Mahatma Gandhi, his own great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Subhash Chandra Bose, Madan Mohan Malviya etc.Meanwhile, as old and seasoned leaders fear that the generational shift might trickle down to key posts as Rahul gets down to forming his own team over the next few months, sources close to Rahul told DNA that he will strike a balance, to draw on the experience of the party’s “old guard” in advisory roles.
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