Arguably one of the most polarizing people in Indian politics today and one who inspires the strongest feelings is Sonia Gandhi – devotion, respect, admiration, hope, disdain, hatred, contempt… she inspires all of these and more. In Indian politics she has run the gamut of positions from being the Prime Minister’s daughter in law to the Prime Minister’s wife to the leader of the opposition to the would-be-PM and de facto head of government.
SONIA GANDHI – AN EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY
A journey that started in a little Italian village as the daughter of a building mason and meandered its way to the most powerful woman in India and among the most powerful women in the world (according to the definitive Forbes list, she has consistently been among the top 10 most powerful women in the world several years in a row) is extraordinary to say the least. Sonia Gandhi has been the President of the Indian National Congress since 1998 a position she has held uninterrupted for the longest time in the party’s 125 year history.
No matter what her worst detractors say, this is not something that could have been achieved only by virtue of belonging to a certain dynasty – it speaks of formidable personal strength and fortitude. No matter that people will disparage her for wielding power without accountability or fostering and nurturing ambitions for her son and presiding over a government rotten from endemic corruption – this is a woman of substance who has survived the hostility of Indian politics.
This is a task that is difficult enough for a woman; it is made all the more so for a woman of foreign birth.
SONIA GANDHI’S SINGLE BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT
Sonia Gandhi was a reluctant politician. Traumatized and shattered by the brutal assassination of her husband in 1991 she initially refused to enter politics. The Congress relentlessly wooed her until she finally consented to join the party as a primary member in 1997. She became party leader the next year.
Her single biggest achievement has been the cohesion and unification of the Congress Party. The Congress was in a shambles when she joined the party – is would not be inaccurate to say that she turned the party around at the time. The Congress suffered a rout in the 1996 general elections and was at its lowest ebb with warring factions, revolt of senior leaders against party president and other strife.
At the time the only thing that the party leaders could agree on was Sonia Gandhi and regardless of her failings – real or perceived – she did in fact revive the party’s sagging fortunes and presided over two tenures of her party rule at the center. Even if she acted only in the interests of the party of her husband and mother in law she was responsible giving us a government that gave us a long period of stability, development and progress.
GIVE SONIA GANDHI HER DUE IN SPITE OF HER FAILINGS
Whatever misgivings the opposition and the public have against the ruling congress party at present, there has been real, measurable and significant progress in the past 9 years of Congress rule. Sonia Gandhi is one of the main reasons that made this possible; inspiring as she does, slavish devotion from her party.
Her word is law – it not democratic but for a long time it got the job done. The recent apathy, incompetence and plodding gait of government to say nothing of the horrific corruption taints upon the Congress should not detract from the fact that they did a good job for a significant length of time.
And may I repeat – Sonia Gandhi is one of the main reasons for the progress that preceded the stagnation – her foreign birth and personal failings such as having favorites and often behaving in an unaccountable and highhanded manner notwithstanding. Perhaps she is as responsible for the current crisis in the government and the wide spread disillusionment of the people as well as the erosion of faith in the party? Possibly. Her perceived ambition for her son may be yet another failing of hers.
There is much that the elections will reveal the next time that the country goes to the polls – about Sonia Gandhi’s achievements, her capabilities and her failings. Meanwhile we can only speculate and pontificate.
Image Source : IANS