I'm not a fan of Gandhi family, but this is why I admire Sonia
Any other woman in her place would have fled to Italy after her husband was assassinated in 1991, fearing for the future of her children.
- Total Shares
Let me confess at the outset that I am not enamoured by the Gandhis, nor do I hold any brief for the Indian National Congress party.
I do not find the family's style of intrusive personalised politics - where the party is a mere imprint of the leader's persona - endearing. Nor do I in principle approve of leaders who painstakingly construct a larger than life image and perpetually hang it around the neck of the party like a giant billboard.
But even though I have grave reservations over these afflictions - especially the lack of inner democracy - I do not have any pathological hatred for the Gandhis either, especially Sonia whom I rather admire for her grit.
Now that I have placed myself in the pillory, let me go a step further and commit political blasphemy as well, by asserting that all said and done this "foreign intruder" has held the party together since 1998, acting as some kind of a political adhesive. But more of that later.
Any other woman in Sonia's place would have fled to Italy after her husband was assassinated in 1991, fearing for the future of her children. So, momentarily, let us see it from the vantage point of a woman who has lost her husband, has to raise two children, and handle the machinations in a party that is a predominantly male preserve and is prone to more intrigue than a medieval palace.
To add to her discomfiture, all these years Sonia had led a sheltered life, with her husband shielding her from public glare. Also, despite the proximity to the Gandhi household, she neither understood the local idiom nor was part of the cultural milieu.
Any other woman in Sonia's place would have married her son off by now, so that she was assured of a political inheritor. Photo: India Today
Try to imagine now a young widow's distress, her angst, her helplessness and the salivating party men, dripping with sycophancy, swarming all over.
Sure, the self-serving old guard in the party gave her a political template within which she had to discharge a straightjacket role; but the party's power elite also had scant personal affinity with Sonia post-Rajiv - their only dread was the loss of privileges and perks.
Sonia took care of the sensitivities of the old guard, ingratiated herself with the man on the street and, most important, kept a straight face before the media. That largely took care of the public perception.
Imagine if LK Advani was transported to Italy, asked to pick up the local language, wear chinos and linen suits and manage Italy's largest party in his leisure time.
Any other woman in Sonia's place - a daughter of the soil so to speak - would have married her son off by now, so that she was assured of a political inheritor. And, in all probability, there would be a brood playing in her backyard by now.
That should nullify the theory that Sonia has dynastic designs. Rahul may be the most eligible bachelor at hand but one can't hear the marriage bells tolling either here or in Myanmar in the near future. That might slam the doors on the Gandhi dynasty for all times to come.
Even those who accuse Sonia of being an extra-constitutional authority during the UPA regimes don't realise that the dual power centre was the most suitable arrangement for the Congress at that time.
Those who accuse Sonia of being an extra-constitutional authority during the UPA regimes don't realise that the dual power centre was the most suitable arrangement for the Congress at that time. Photo: India Today
Inherent in this was also an invisible system of checks and balances. Again, it is to her credit that in UPA-II she persisted with her nominee Manmohan Singh and did not have him unceremoniously removed even in the face of bad press and low approval ratings.
Most important, Sonia realised rather early the importance of symbolism over substance: the grace with which she carries the saree and the pallu were all part of this "traditional bahu" demeanour she had created for herself. Also, all her life there has been no hint of personal scandal and personal impropriety, though it remains to be seen what course the National Herald case will take.
This is not to suggest that all is hunky dory within the party. The rot had perhaps set in decades earlier, when anonymous party men were made chief ministers. Depriving the states of strong leaders has been at the root of the decline of the Congress. Indira's successors had merrily stuck to this template, in the process alienating the party activist and killing whatever little talent that existed in the party.
One dreads the political vacuum that may arise post Sonia, given the political naivety of Rahul and the absence of a second-rung leadership; all this does not augur well for our bipolar polity either.
It is only when you consider the continuity that Sonia has imparted to the party that one realises the import of having had her around all these years.
In parties like the Congress, continuity is a far more overwhelming a factor than institutional change. But maybe now it is time for course correction, before it is too late.
Sonia owes it to Rajiv, if nobody else.