September 4, 2010

sonia gandhi’s fourth term

The Congress, with all its failings on price-corruption-reforms fronts and the Left’s charge that its government is sold to the US, is a stable party now. Unlike twelve years back, nobody is talking of its swan song, and people at large are not too depressed with it. Its state units are not full of zeal and its leaders are not all a happy lot, but that will always be in the case of a big centrist party trying to accommodate all shades of interests and opinions. So, from 1998 to 2010, Sonia Gandhi has steered the party like none could do it before.

Remember the hue and cry over her origin? When Sonia entered the political scene, opposition played up her Italian origin issue to the hilt and within Congress too the ambitious ones who saw their scope for becoming party chief or PM dwindling raised the anti-Italian bogey and then formed their own party. Her master card after the victory of Congress-led UPA in 1999 general elections not to accept prime minister-ship played well and has still been paying her and the party rich dividends.

Of course, Sonia is the matriarch of the Congress party. But she has earned it more than inheriting. Nothing binds the party and instils confidence among Congressmen than a leader from Nehru-Gandhi family if he is seen to be strong. When Sonia initially looked like a faltering widow guided by opportunists and cronies, there was desperation and there was rebellion; but when she started asserting, the party started to look to her for leadership. Thanks to her political sagacity, she has not only acted as a mature matriarch, she has done one better. Who among the Congress presidents espoused the cause of the ‘common man’ and made the government come out with NREGA and such other schemes? Only Sonia!

Sonia has also played the role of the final arbiter for the squabbling UPA constituents with grace, maturity, good political sense and perceived fairness. So, like Vajpayee for the NDA, Sonia is the glue that keeps the UPA together. No doubt, Manmohan Singh’s humble persona and shaky stand [except on the nuclear energy, which he has made a personal cause] complement her very well in this area too.

Sonia is craftily making space for her son. Like her mother, he too has refused a position in the government. He is busy taking up the cause of the poor and those seen to be victimised by official or social injustice. He is a member of parliament and he is a Congress general secretary. Like her mother, he has enormous influence over the party and the government, but without accountability. If this style has made Sonia the most powerful lady in the land, it will make Rahul the most powerful man when Sonia wants to retire from active politics.

Let’s come back to Sonia. There will be challenges arising out of Ayodhya verdict, naxalism, terrorism, price rise, greater opening up of economy, corruption in welfare schemes, anti-incumbency and so on. But hasn’t she weathered big storms already in 12 eventful years? One wishes her well in her fourth term.

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