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Rahul Gandhi takes charge as Congress president, launches sharp attack on BJP

Rahul Gandhi today became the sixth person from his family to be president of the Indian National Congress. The first was Motilal Nehru, who was followed by his son Jawaharlal, and then came Indira, Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi's term, which lasted 19 years, was the longest in the party's history. It will also go down as the period in which the Congress transformed in the way Indians viewed it.

"Like many Indians across the country, I am an idealist," Rahul Gandhi began in English after taking over as Congress president. "But many of us are disillusioned today with what we see in politics today. It is devoid of kindness and truth. Today politics is used to crush people, not lift them. Politics belongs to the people.

"The moment you challenge the structure of power to stand with the power, you are attacked. To weaken you, they lie and distort. The Congress had taken the country to the 21st century but our Prime Minister is taking us back. We are now being told only one man is the voice of reason - that everything is subservient to him. Our foreign policy is in tatters so that one man can be strong.

"They want to weaken us but they can do that only if we back down. Stand up to them. We at the Congress promise that we will defend the voice of every Indian. We will never allow to silence the voice of every Indian. I want the Congress party to become an instrument of dialogue for all Indians.

"I'd like to speak a bit in Hindi now," he said before switching to Hindi as the uncharacteristically silent crowd begins to cheer. Once you start a fire, it is very difficult to contain, he says, pointing at the firecrackers outside. This is what we have been trying to explain to the BJP, he added.

I want to tell every Congress worker this - you are my family, said Rahul Gandhi, before adding that he invites the youth to come forth and build an India with love and kindness. My responsibility is to protect your voice, he said.

Switching to English, he continued. "Congress is an ancient idea. BJP would like you to believe their idea is the oldest, this is not true. We consider the BJP our brothers and sisters, though we don't agree with them. We do not fight hate with hate. They crush voices, but we allow the most vulnerable to sing. Congress has always and will always meet any challenge with love and affection. It is with utmost humility that I accept this position."