Son-rise in South Asia: Rahul Gandhi & Bilawal Bhutto take centrestage
Two young men on either side of LoC, with great surnames and having lost one of their parent to terrorism are now at the helm of political affairs in their country
Rahul Gandhi,47, has been coronated the new chief of the Congress, a decision some say was inevitable the day he joined politics and became an MP in 2004. However, the war has now just begun as India?s grand old party steps into a new era under the Gandhi scion. The road ahead won?t be paved with gold.
On the other side of the border, Bilawal Bhutto, just 29, chairman of Pakistan?s People?s party(PPP) is at the same point as Rahul in 2004 ? busy sharpening his political skills, one day his time will come, just like Rahul, to lead the PPP which has lost ground to Nawaz Sharif?s PML-N.
Bloodlines in South Asian politics
Rahul?s elevation as Congress party chief in just 13 years has been dramatic, full of ups and downs but an inevitable fact since the Gandhis?, just like the Bhuttos? have dominated their parties with bloodlines calling the shots.
Both have been ?reluctant politicians?, Bilawal is still testing political waters in Pakistan even as he tours the country. The PPP has still not thrust him into the political limelight, however, just like Rahul, Bilawal will have to one day ? very soon, take over the reins of the party and lead from the front.
Are the two young men from elite political lineage be up for the task?
Rahul Gandhi was thrust into the limelight in May 1991 as a 21-year-old when his father Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu. The spotlight never lifted after that fateful day.
Rewind to October 31st, 1984 when Rahul?s grandmother Indira Gandhi was assassinated at her home in Safdarjung road in Delhi, Rahul just 14, looked at Indian politics straight in the eye and prepared for the inevitable ? lead the Congress one day.
Congress is both a ?burden? and a ?legacy? which every family member born with the Gandhi surname must bear, Rahul?s father Rajiv, after all, did not have any inclination to join politics, safe in the knowledge that Sanjay Gandhi, Indira?s favourite son was the political heir apparent, but destiny had something else in store for Rajiv.
Bilawal: Still a student of politics
Bilawal too, like Rahul, has witnessed politics from close quarters ? as a bloody slugfest and an unpredictable jungle.
As a 19-year-old, Bilawal lost his mother ? Benazir, brutally struck down at a political rally in Rawalpindi in 2007. It was a political wake-up call.
Since that fateful day, Bilawal, still a ?student? of politics has been trying to find his foothold in a country jaded by a surge in terrorist activity and constant battle to keep its identity alive in a world surrounded by secessionist forces.
In many ways, Bilawal?s journey is set to be more difficult than Rahul. There is no ?political godfather? he can bank upon in the party, his father Asif Ali Zardari is not known to be a crowd-puller, nor has he ever thrust himself full throttle into the political big game, safe in the knowledge that his son ? Bilawal - will be a better face to carry on the family legacy
Unlike Rahul who entered politics when the Congress party beat the NDA in 2004 with Sonia as the reigning queen, hand-holding his son as he made his way into politics, Bilawal has no family insider in politics.
Pakistan?s elections are due next year; political commentators feel it will be the first true test for the young Bhutto.
Bilawal has already started preparing, touring the country to establish a ?mass connect?. Pakistan however hasn?t completely warmed up to the young Bhutto, who some say he still hasn?t arrived on the political scene.
The charisma of Benazir is after all a hard act to follow. But just like Rahul, Bilawal carries with him the ?burden? and ?aspirations? of his party to one day, very soon, lead it to glory ? and victory.
Rahul staring at 2019 elections
Bilawal may be testing the waters, but for Rahul, the ?political game? has already begun.
As the Congress stares at the general election in less than two years, the heat is on the newly-crowned Congress president to come forward and lead the charge, just like his mother had done in 2004 disposing of Atal Bihari Vajpayee?s rampant charge with the ?aam admi? slogan.
This time, however, it is a different world. Modi is the ?tallest? leader of India, surpassing him will require ?out of the box? ideas combined with political cunning to stitch together a coalition to take on the BJP juggernaut which has rolled on ceaselessly since the BJP-led NDA came to power in 2014.
Will Rahul be able to deliver? The tide is of course against him but strange things have happened in politics earlier!
South Asia?s dynasty
India and Pakistan have been addicted to family legacies ever since its inception in 1947.
Rahul?s grandfather Nehru was a dominant figure in India even before ?47, in Pakistan Bilawal?s grandfather Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of PPP, was a charismatic figure who rallied his country through all odds.
Both countries have also seen political dynasties going through upheavals ? Indira and Rajiv were brutally silenced by assassins, in Pakistan ? father & daughter ? Zulifiqar and Benazir succumbed to Pakistan?s inner demons.
Zulifiqar was throttled in the end by Pakistan?s all-powerful military led by general Zia-ul-Haq, and Benazir fell victim to her country?s dangerous sectarian and jihadi mix, some accused the Pakistan Taliban of carrying out the assassination, other believed the military was behind it.
But Benazir?s assassin was never caught. It was a murder shrouded in mystery?forever.
Bilawal & Rahul?s last stand
As Bilawal and Rahul step-up to take their respective parties forward in their country, the focus will be squarely upon them ? and no one else.
Both will have to contest on their own terms to take their party and country forward with the Opposition, both real and imaginary, breathing down their neck.
The next two years will be a test of character for both men on either side of the LoC. Their next steps will decide the future course of their party and decide the final destiny of their dynasty.