NEW DELHI Rahul Gandhi, son, grandson and great-grandson to prime ministers of India, took over on Saturday as president of the Indian National Congress opposition party, continuing the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in the party.
The INC held a ceremony to mark the occasion at the party headquarters in New Delhi, with large billboards displaying photos of Rahul Gandhi, aged 47, along with his mother and outgoing president Sonia Gandhi.
Rahul and Sonia both gave speeches addressing the perceived climate of intolerance in the country, in which radical Hindu groups have attacked religious minorities, especially Muslims, since the right-wing Bharatiya Janta Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came to power.
The Congress took India into the 21st Century, while the PM today is taking us backwards, to the medieval past where people are poached because of who they are, beaten for what they believe in and killed for what they eat, Rahul said.
The new president of the largest opposition party said that it would become an instrument for dialogue and would not counter hate with hate but with love, quoting Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian pacifist leader and freedom-fighter.
Sonia Gandhi, who had led the party since 1998, said that constitutional values were under attack in the country.
The INC had formally declared Rahul as its new president on Monday after he was the only candidate nominated in the primaries, with 89 nominations.
Rahul represents the fourth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family, after his great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was prime minister of India after the country gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1984, and his father, Rajiv Gandhi, who was killed in a suicide bomb attack in 1991.
He replaces his mother Sonia, who turned 71 last weekend and has been battling health problems for some time.
Sonia, born and brought up in Italy, had declined the position of president of the Congress party just after the assassination of her husband and it was only in 1998 that she ascended to the post.
Rahul takes charge of the party amid doubts and questions about his oratory skills and charisma.
The leadership change also comes amid elections in the western state of Gujarat where Rahul has campaigned extensively which will be the first test of his leadership of a party which has been accused by critics of being dynastic and undemocratic.