JAIPUR, India (AP) — Rahul Gandhi, the heir to India's Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, said he would work to transform the country by decentralizing power after he was elevated to the governing Congress party's No. 2 post.
His career embodies Congress' reliance on the Gandhi family name, but the man widely expected to be the party's candidate for prime minister in next year's elections condemned elitism as "the tragedy of India" and vowed to work to expand access to power for ordinary people.
"For me, the Congress party is my life. The people of India are my life and I will fight for them," Gandhi, a 42-year-old lawmaker, said in his acceptance speech Sunday in the western Indian city of Jaipur, a day after he was appointed the party vice president, a position behind his mother Sonia Gandhi, who is the Congress party president.
Reflecting on his eight years while working for the party organization, Rahul Gandhi said India's governmental system was struck in the past and the answer lay in completely transforming it.
"A handful of people control the entire political space" he said to cheering party workers.
"It doesn't matter how much wisdom you have. If you don't have position, you have nothing. That's the tragedy of India," he said.
Rahul Gandhi also said many Indian youths are angry because they have been excluded from the political class.
"We only empower people at the top of the system. We don't believe in empowering all the way to the bottom," he said.
He said change could be possible only if those in power started respecting and empowering people for their knowledge and skills.
"All the public systems — administration, justice, education and political — are designed to keep people with knowledge out," he said.
Such a system promotes mediocrity, he added.
However, opposition parties are already seizing on the fast political rise of Rahul Gandhi — the son, grandson and great-grandson of Indian prime ministers — to brand Congress as nepotistic and elitist.
Arun Jaitley, a leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said Rahul Gandhi's elevation in the Congress party was a move to convert the world's largest democracy into a dynastic nation. Jaitley said the leader of his party was decided on the basis of ability, not lineage.
In 2004, Manmohan Singh, a technocrat, was chosen to fill the prime minister's seat in 2004 by Sonia Gandhi, the Congress leader and widow of assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Singh has been widely seen as a regent, keeping the seat warm until Rahul Gandhi was ready to take what some see as 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. He has never held a Cabinet-level position.
Party workers have been demanding Rahul Gandhi's elevation for years, but he had been shying away from holding a top position in the party.
His supporters 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. The party performed poorly in both states' elections last year.
Rahul Gandhi entered politics in 2004 and became a lawmaker from Amethi seat in northern Uttar Pradesh state. The parliamentary seat was held by his mother until she shifted to a neighboring constituency.