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Sonia Gandhi

Destiny Shapes Her Leadership

by Piyush Kumar

G21 Irregular

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Photo of Sonia Gandhi.Born in Italy, married and widowed in India, she had never dreamt of entering politics; clad in an "Indian Saree" (a popular Indian ladies outfit); puts a "Bindi" on her forehead (worN by Indian ladies for the betterment of their husbands); she is an electrifying, charismatic leader of the Indian masses, accepted by Indians as their "bahu" (daughter-in-law). Now she is the President of the main and largest opposition political party of India, "Indian National Congress" (Known simply by most as the Congress Party.)

She is Sonia Gandhi, an Indian leader whose renown crosses international boundaries.

An era of tragedies, an era of silence, suspense and gossip which seemed to overshadow her life, may have ended.. She holds the key to her party in her hands now and, probably, with it the fate of India.

Independent India has been ruled for decades mainly by the Gandhi Dynasty. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi were three Prime ministers produced by this dynasty. Sonia Gandhi is the widow of Late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and mother of his two children viz. a son Rahul Gandhi and a daughter Priyanka Gandhi (Many believe that it is Priyanka who was the driving force behind her mother's political rise.)

The making of the real Sonia began in 1984 after the cruel assassination of her mother-in-law, then Indian Prime minister, Indira Gandhi. Despite resistance from Sonia, Rajiv Gandhi (Sonia's husband) accepted the post of Prime Minister heeding an overwhelming majority of supporters. Before the assassination, Rajiv Gandhi had been known merely for being an air force officer enjoying a happy life and Sonia was virtually unknown in much of India.

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But the first tragedy was the beginning of an era of tragedies in Sonia Gandhis life, which nearly shattered her. Rajiv Gandhi was one of the accused in the controversial Swedish BOFORS defense gun deal. This much controversial deal was made, during Rajiv's regime for purchasing of 144 "Bofors" guns (canons) for the Indian army costing of nearly US $ 370 millions. Rajic was defamed by the charges of taking huge "commissions" through some middleman.

The probe is still going on but to date there is nothing to prove his taking "commissions." or kickbacks. Nonetheless, the resultant political scandal cost Rajiv Gandhi his political credibility. He suffered a "political death" and lost the seat of Prime minister. Sonia Gandhi was also defamed as she is a born Italian and Italy was linked with the controversial BOFORS defense gun deal as the main accused, a middleman, in the deal Ottevvio Quottrochi, another Italian.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi during a public speech by a suicide bomb killer was the next blow for Sonia Gandhi. She remained went into an era of silence and mourning. But then nearly every Congress Party member stepped forward to persuad Sonia Gandhi to join the party in the national interest. Again she was reluctant to enter the very political system which had cost the lives of her two dearest love ones, her husband Rajiv and mother-in-law Indira Gandhi.

Time is the best healer and the circumstances, time and place decide the destiny of a person.

That is what happened with Sonia Gandhi. Her entry into politics was not a dramatic one but a calculated move. Sonia accepted becoming the Congress President and was elected on 6 April, 1998. From thereafter she was one of the most powerful people in Indian politics.

Sonia Gandhi has the legacy to govern India. She is the premiere leader in the Congress party, whose voice is listened to and honored by all members. She is in the position to unite the party, but happy days are often short-lived and Sonia is facing stiff challenges from her own partymen now. The challenge is to the party leadership for the top post of Congress President.

Sonia contested the National elections for the very first time for a Member of the Indian Parliament. She did hectic and intensive electioneering in India's remotest villages and cities from the dawn to dusk. And she came away with flying colors from two of the parliamentary constituencies. Amethi is the traditional seat of Gandhi family and Sonia retained it by a huge and comfortable margin, but the Congress party suffered a major loss overall and reduced to being the main and largest opposition political group of India under her leadership.

In the recent State Assembly polls, the Congress Party was routed completely once again after a crushing defeat in India's National polls.

This stunning defeat in the National elections has created a situation where the dissidents are growing day by day in the Congress Party and Sonia, a non-Indian in the final analysis, is facing tough times as a political leader. The ship of the Congress is sailing on troubled waters.

Photo of Sonia Gandhi.A complaint of Sonia Gandhi's opponents within her party is that she tends to be indecisive; many congressmen are of this view and say that her decisions lack transparency. Her foreign origins also continue to be a barrier in her political career. Indian's middle class may not be ready to accept a foreigner governing the nation. Sonia knows that her popularity graph is moving downwards but she may still at least remain head of the Congress Party, until there is not a better alternative available.

The ruling party of India The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), is a Hindu Nationalist party and the main contest for power is between Congress & BJP.

Both the parties are indulging in a tussle of words against each other.

Sonia's approach is to oppose the BJP in the Parliament and on the streets on each and every possible occassion.

BJP is saying Sonia is a born foreigner and a foreigner can not head India. BJP wants to amend the constitution of India for that purpose. But Congress objects to the constitutional review committee appointed by the government and says that the committee itself is against the spirit of the constitution and will tamper with the "basic structure" of the Indian constitution.

This allows Sonia to play the Sentiment card, saying that she is now a "citizen" of India in a technical manner and also she is accepted as a daughter-in-law of India.

Sonia, meanwhile, attacks BJP for playing the so-called Hindu card and for governing through its parent, non-political wing, the RSS. She argues that BJP's politics are based on establishing "cultural terror" in the country and its academic institutions.

The policy of decentralization is the main focus of Sonia's efforts to restructure the Congress now and she is giving more powers to the State Congress committees. Also she is giving powerful posts to her loyal supporters and undermining the grip of powerful opponents on the Congress Working Committee (CWC).

The Herculean task ahead of Gandhi is to win the hearts of the people of India, thus forcing Congress back into its traditional position as the ruling party. Today, this seems a distant reality.


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