Will India embrace Rahul Gandhi?
- 29 December 2011
- From the section India
Under pressure over corruption scandals and a slowing economy, many in India's Congress party are looking to Rahul Gandhi, fourth generation scion of the famous Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder joined him as he campaigned in Uttar Pradesh, which faces crucial polls early next year.
In a large public ground near the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh state, thousands of people wait in anticipation.
The largely rural gathering has spent several hours braving the chilly winter temperature for a glimpse of the heir to one of the world's most powerful political dynasties.
Even as a local politician tries to keep them engaged, a cheer runs through the crowd as a white SUV makes its way into the ground, its wheels churning up dust.
Rahul Gandhi, the man they've all come to see, steps out surrounded almost instantly by bodyguards in black suits and dark glasses.
'Give us a chance'
The crowd breaks out into an applause as he steps up to address them from a stage a fair distance from them.
"The Congress government has always worked for your interests," he says.
"Farmers, workers, the dispossessed, the poorest of the poor. Give us a chance and you'll see the results."
Uttar Pradesh is India's most politically influential state, which sends the most members to parliament.
Once a Congress stronghold, the party has lost ground to regional, socialist parties which are seen as more representative of lower castes, minorities and other disadvantaged groups who have been left out of India's economic progress.
This is one of several rallies that the young Gandhi is addressing as part of his campaign for vital local elections due next year as he tries to rebuild his party's base.
Many are willing to give him a chance.
"The Gandhi family has always been inclusive, appealing to all groups rather than any one," says one old man.
"We are tired of the current crop of leaders. We think he can help improve things for us."
As he heads off to his next stop, we join his convoy as it speeds through the dusty lanes of Uttar Pradesh.
Along the way, hundreds of people gather to wave and catch a glimpse. The Gandhis are political royalty in India and the urge to get up close is irresistible.
And he obliges, leaning out of his car to shake hands or even get out at impromptu pit stops.
It's this iconic status that has always delivered and that his party is now banking on.
"There is a certain association that the country has with this family," says Neerja Chowdhury, a political commentator.
Three generations of the family have governed India, from the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to his daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv.
So for many, it's natural to assume that Rahul will also follow in their footsteps.
"They're a pan-Indian recognised family. Very few political families today are in this position. They are committed to secular values and remember, this is still a very feudal country," says Ms Chowdhury.
It's not going to be that easy though for Rahul Gandhi. Unlike the last time when a Gandhi was at the helm, India has changed politically and economically.
Makur is just one of many villages in his campaign belt but typical of the area.
In the early morning winter mist, children play in the dirt as the villagers tend to their cattle - older members huddle around a fire trying to stay warm.
Even as India has progressed, social and economic disparities have widened - it is something he has to address if he is to win them over.
"We have so many problems," says Ram Gopal, a rice farmer in his fifties, who attended his latest rally.
"Everything costs so much more, we lack water, our villagers are in a terrible shape. Maybe he can change all that.
"If not, we'll simply vote for someone else," he adds.
Back on the campaign trail, Rahul Gandhi is still drawing the crowds.
Even though his sights are set on these local elections, many in his party and elsewhere want him to now take on a larger, national role - perhaps even the job of leading the world's largest democracy.
The question is whether he is ready for it, and whether India in turn is ready to embrace him.