Sonia Gandhi’s move to contest from Rae Bareli is surprising, underlying 10 Janpath’s desperate bid to shore up Congress prospects in the 2019 general elections and keep the party cadre motivated.
However, in doing so, the former Congress president has over-ruled herself. Sonia had toyed with the idea of retiring from politics in 2016 when she turned 70. The party, however, kept pressuring, dithering and delaying till Rahul Gandhi was crowned party president when the Gujarat assembly polls were underway. For the past one year, Sonia had almost stopped meeting Congress leaders, telling them to call on Rahul. However, political compulsions or the doctrine of necessity due to the post-Pulwama and surgical strikes scenario has forced her to junk her own desire to set an example of voluntary retirement from public life.
The development signals, yet again, the clout of the Congress old guard over the Gandhis. In other words, for the first time in contemporary history, the country’s illustrious political family has become hopelessly dependent on the party than the other way round.
“Sonia Gandhi dobara” has its positives. The woman from Orbassano is one of the finest graduates from the university of life. From available indications, she is preparing herself to play the role of a “kingmaker” after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls if the verdict is split.
The 2004 tie-up with the DMK was another example of realpolitik. The DMK was a party that some senior Congress leaders had in 1997 accused of being soft on the LTTE — the Sri Lankan militant outfit to whose bomb Rajiv Gandhi fell. However, from 2004-2014, Sonia displayed a refreshing approach towards allies, bringing around even the NCP, with which the party had an ego clash. Through the UPA years of 2004-14, Sonia kept both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in good humour, even though they were rivals on the Uttar Pradesh turf.
Sources close to Sonia say her life has largely been shaped by circumstances than her free will. She was opposed to the idea of Rajiv Gandhi joining politics after Sanjay Gandhi’s death and Rajiv taking over as prime minister after Indira Gandhi. But on both occasions, circumstances forced her to accept destiny. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, she showed a degree to firmness to say no to politics when the entire Congress Working Committee, led by Pranab Mukherjee, pleaded with her to be Rajiv’s successor.
By 1997, several Congress leaders such as Aslam Sher Khan, Mani Shankar Aiyar, PR Kumaramangalam, Suresh Kalmadi and Buta Singh had deserted the grand old party. In despair, a number of middle-rung leaders such as Digvijaya Singh, Ahmed Patel, Ashok Gehlot, Vayalar Ravi and Kamal Nath approached “apolitical” Sonia with a plea: “How can you allow the collapse of the Congress before your eyes.” The tardy progress in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination probe, declining fortunes of the Congress and attack on the Nehru-Gandhi legacy had weighed heavily on Sonia’s decision to join active politics. She viewed the Congress as an extension of her love for Rajiv Gandhi and the country she had chosen to live in.
Delivering a lecture on ‘Living politics: what India has taught me’ at the Nexus institute in Netherlands in 2007, Sonia had observed, “Looking back, I can say that it was through the private world of family that the public world of politics came alive for me: living in intimate proximity with people for whom larger questions of ideology and belief as well as issues relating to politics and governance were vivid daily realities. I had to school myself not to react in the face of falsehood and slander. I had to learn to endure them as the rest of the family did,” she said.
In conclusion, Sonia had remarked, “Public life in India is characterised by vigorous debate and vehement contention. The cacophony of politics is the very music of our democracy.”