Ridiculed for a decade, India's Rahul Gandhi slows Modi juggernaut

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NEW DELHI - Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, mocked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters for a decade as an entitled dynast, marked a stunning comeback on Tuesday, emerging at the centre of an alliance that made deep inroads into ruling party strongholds.

The scion of India's fabled Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, he embarked on two cross-country marches against what he called Modi's politics of hate and fear, giving a jolt of enthusiasm to his Congress party and rehabilitating his own image.

Reduced by a Modi landslide to just 52 seats in the 543-member lower house of parliament in 2019, Congress looks well set to nearly double that tally this year, according to the vote count from the general election.

That total is likely to restrict Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to less than the 272 seats needed to win a majority on its own, and it will have to rely on allies to form the government.

Though it might have to sit another term out of power, Congress will have the loudest voice in a much stronger opposition, with Gandhi at its centre.

As the opposition's most prominent face, Gandhi has been a target of attacks from Modi and other BJP leaders, who often call him "the prince".

Gandhi's father, grandmother and great-grandfather have all been prime ministers.

During the campaign, Gandhi, with close-cropped black hair and a scruffy salt-and-pepper stubble, criss-crossed the country as his party's main face, even though Congress is led by family loyalist Mallikarjun Kharge.

"I think Rahul Gandhi will get credit, not just for mobilisation, for his marches, but also for continuously clarifying the Congress's ideological pitch against the BJP," said Rahul Verma, political analyst at the Centre for Policy Research think tank in New Delhi.

"If there was a moment when Gandhi really emerged, it is now," he said.

BATTLE AGAINST HATE

At a news conference on Tuesday, Gandhi pulled out a red-jacketed, pocket-sized version of the country's constitution that he has referred to continuously during the campaign, and said his alliance's performance was the "first step" in preventing Modi from attempting to change it.

Changing the constitution requires a two-thirds in parliament.

Cambridge-educated Gandhi has often said that he is battling Modi's BJP not just to wrest power, but to defeat the party's and its parent R...

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