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Ghandi Announces Candidacy in Upcoming Indian Election - 2004-03-26

In India, the latest member of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty has announced his candidacy in the coming parliamentary election, quelling months of speculation. Rahul Gandhi is the son, grandson and great-grandson of Indian prime ministers.

It is a short walk to the corner of the garden in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library to see the three eternal flames burning in memory of the three members of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, who served as prime ministers and died in office.

"After death of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru - burning continuous - and after death of Indira Gandhi and after death of Rajiv Gandhi," explains Tour guide Narinda Rana.

Independent India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, died in office in 1964 of natural causes. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, who served as prime minister for all but three years between 1966 and 1984, was assassinated. So, too, was her son, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991.

Rajiv Gandhi's widow, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, heads the opposition Congress Party. The Congress Party is trying to unseat the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, when about 650 million Indian voters go to the polls in April and May.

Now, another Gandhi has entered politics. Ms. Gandhi's 33-year-old son, Rahul Gandhi, has announced his candidacy for the parliamentary seat once held by his father.

Mr. Gandhi has lived and worked mostly overseas, since he attended university. He has no experience in politics, but some say he and other young members of the Gandhi family could do wonders for the Congress Party.

Dilip Cherian runs Perfect Relations, a publicity firm helping manage the Congress Party campaign. He says the young Gandhis bring much needed charisma to the party.

"They're young, they're Indian, they're urbane, they're enthusiastic, all the qualities for leading the below 30's, who are 60 percent of the electorate, into a future, which is the 21st century," he said.

It is that future that seems to have the Gandhi family worried. After India achieved independence from the British in 1947, the Gandhi family ruled the country for 37 of the next 42 years.

But now, the Congress Party has been out of power for nearly 10 years, and, some say, the fierce loyalty once inspired by the family has waned. Inder Malhotra is the author of the book, Dynasties of India and Beyond. He says the notion that Rahul Gandhi can revitalize the Congress Party is absurd.

"Here you have a youngster of 34, who has absolutely shown no political acumen, has not been seen or heard of earlier," said Inder Malhotra. "Now, really, because he's a member of the family that he will come back, this just shows the kind of decline of Indian politics."

Sonia Gandhi, meanwhile, has dismissed speculation that she has anointed her son as a political heir.

"There is no question of heir-apparent or not," she said. "The question is that Rahul Gandhi will fight an election. If he wins, he will look after the constituency."

Another member of the Gandhi family is under close scrutiny by the Indian media, 36-year-old Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Rahul's older sister. She has not announced an intention to run for a parliamentary seat, but in what seems an acknowledgment that the party needs young Gandhi blood, she says she will campaign for the Congress Party.