Though many may not know it, or perhaps even believe it, Sonia Gandhi’s story is a story of love…..her love for Rajiv and her love for India. Even Rajiv’s death did not deter her to leave. She chose the narrow path to stay behind in the country, even forgiving it for the ghastly assassination of her husband. She has blended beautifully, almost perfectly, just like her perfectly draped saris.
To say that Sonia Gandhi’s life has been eventful is an understatement. From a young Italian language student called Edvige Antonia Albina Maino to being the wife of former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi and then going further to be voted the ninth most powerful person on the planet by Forbes Magazine in 2010. Her journey is the stuff, films/books are made of and yes, there have been many of those too….the Red Sari by Javier Moro being the most controversial. Her life has seen many ups and oh! a countless downs. Yet she walks tall. The current Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, she has donned many other hats as well viz; the wife of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the President of the Congress, Lok Sabha member, Chairperson of the National Advisory Council, etc.
Sonia avoided politics all together at first, satisfied at being an able wife, loving mother to her children, Rahul and Priyanka and a dutiful daughter in law as well. She joined politics only later in 1991 amidst pleading from Congress party members to be the next ‘Gandhi’ to lead them, after the assassination of her husband Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. She joined the party but refused to accept the post of the Prime Minister, which then went to P.V. Narsimha Rao. Sonia Gandhi courted controversy when the Bofors scandal and her alleged association with Italian business man Ottavio Quattrocchi broke out in 1989, which tainted the ‘Gandhi’ family name in the eyes of the public. However she let her capability talk and as per the records, is the longest serving president of the Congress party – 1998 till date. Sonia battled critics and own party members regarding her ‘foreign’ origin. Her once close aides, Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar confronted her on the issue, which lead to their expulsion and subsequent formation of rival Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Even after this big jolt and the subsequent debacle in the 1999 elections, which saw the NDA led Vajpayee Govt. into power, she did not lose hope. As the leader of the Opposition, she made a clever move of calling a no-confidence motion and toppled the Vajpayee Govt. to make a massive comeback in the 2004 general elections. She was expected to become Prime Minister of India after her stellar comeback but Sonia’s foreign origin played spoil sport once again, and Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister.
She led her party once again to victory in the 2009 general elections continuing Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. Under her leadership, the flagship poverty alleviation and welfare scheme -the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme) was floated and the Right to Information Bill became an Act. Her party is still committed to a ‘secular’ India and does not play the ‘Hindutva’ card for vote bank politics. She is also a supporter for LGBT and minority rights.
After 2009, her party’s fortunes continued to dwindle with the party members being caught up in various scams —the 2G spectrum allocation scam, the Coal gate-coal bloc allocation scam , the Aadarsh Society scam for illegal housing allotments, the land scam concerning Robert Vadra (son in law of Sonia Gandhi). Over and above this, there were allegations that Manmohan Singh was just a puppet Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi held the reins. With all this baggage, it was no surprise that the 2014 elections, the Congress led UPA alliance recorded its worst performance winning just 59 seats as against 206 in the 2009 elections.
Sonia Gandhi’s mettle continues to be tested as in the recent years, she has not been able to counter Modi’s offensives nor match his strategies. Her party was not able to form governments in Goa and Manipur despite of having a majority there. The party’s base in Karnataka is slowly being eroded by the BJP’s Hindutva agenda. Also the tie-up with Akhilesh Yadav for the UP Assembly elections proved disastrous. Similarly the party’s efforts in promoting Meira Kumar and Gopal Gandhi as presidential and vice presidential nominee respectively went in vain. President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu are BJP nominees. The recent cross –over by Nitish Kumar to the NDA camp and resignation of senior party men like Shankar Singh Vaghela has also hit the party hard.
But despite all this the image of Sonia Gandhi and the aura and mystery surrounding her has not diminished. She may seem defeated but she is definitely not down. She still commands tremendous respect from her party workers and the masses alike. She has the capability of rising above the ashes like a Phoenix…..just as she did in the past in her darkest moment when she lost her husband. And unknown to many, Sonia Gandhi is preparing once again for a battle in 2019……to recapture once more her moment in the sun.