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An unfair comparison - The Indian Express

Rajat Sharma ()
February 15, 1998

Title: An unfair comparison
Author: Rajat Sharma
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 15, 1998

If one goes entirely by media reports, the present election has
become a contest between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi.
But the differences between the two are striking.

Vajpayee has been in public life for 50 years. Sonia hasn't
completed even 50 days. Vajpayee had participated in the freedom
struggle and he was jailed during the Emergency. Sonia was born
an Italian and her only claim to politics is her marriage into
the Nehru-Gandhi family. Vajpayee is available for scrutiny by
the media. Sonia is not. Even in private, she speaks only to
people who are her favourites. Vajpayee is bound by party
discipline; Sonia has her own agenda.

The BJP is projecting Vajpayee as its prime ministerial
candidate, but no Congress leader can say with authenticity what
Sonia's role would be after the election. Vajpayee, moreover, has
never been accused of corruption in his long political career,
whereas Sonia is very much in the thick of the Bofors
controversy. It is believed that her friend, Ottavio Quatrocchi,
is one of the recipients of the pay-offs in the Bofors deal. It
is unfortunate, therefore, that a man of Vajpayee's stature is
being compared with a woman whose only qualification is that she
married into the family that once ruled the country.

Even their campaigning styles are poles apart. A seasoned orator,
Vajpayee speaks from the heart. Crowds come to his public
meetings to hear his views, not those of a ghost writer, which is
the case with Sonia, who reads from a prepared text written in
Roman script. So, people come merely to see her - after all, she
has substantial novelty value.

Vajpayee has emerged as the natural leader of his party. There's
no dispute in the BJP about projecting him as the party's face.
Sonia's spokesmen, on the other hand, claim she has actually
obliged the party by agreeing to campaign for it to reverse its
steady decline. Vajpayee has never cultivated his own faction
within the party, unlike Sonia, who's continuing the Nehru-Gandhi
tradition of playing favourites.

Going by media reports, Sonia was responsible for Arun Nehru
being thrown out of Rajiv Gandhi's inner circle. More recently,
there were stories about how Arjun Singh and Narain Dutt Tiwari's
revolt had Sonia's blessings. Sonia, unlike Vajpayee, controls
the party through the backdoor. She managed to keep Jagdish
Tytler and Sajjan Kumar out of the race, while intervening in
favour of Shiela Dixit. So, although Sonia has never worked for
the Congress, she has snore powers than the legitimately elected
party president, whom everyone seems to have forgotten.

Vajpayee has a large member of admirers outside his party as web.
Writers, thinkers and leaders of other political parties hold him
in high esteem. And he's available to both friends and foes.
Sonia, on the other hand, has been an absolutely private person.
She has her own set of friends and she hardly has admirers,
except perhaps desperate partymen for whom she's the last hope.
She doesn't allow critics come anywhere near her and there are
few leaders within her own party who get a chance to talk to her.
And those who do, return remarking that it's like talking to a
wan. She never says a word. Even the two statements issued so far
on her behalf have been signed by Vincent George, her Man Friday.

We all know why Vajpayee is in politics. Politics, although not
his first love, has become a passion with him. But we don't know
what prompted Sonia to join the circus. Her claim that she has
come to save the party has a hollow ring to it. The party, after
all, has been in a bad way for quite some time. Anyway, at the
moment Sonia is only a campaigner asking for votes. Her advisers,
however, don't miss any opportunity to tell you that the Congress
won't be able to form a government on its own. So, will Sonia
support the United Front led by N. Chandrababu Naidu, M.
Karunanidhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav, who've been opposing her
bitterly. Or, will she ask for their support to become prime
minister herself? And if power alone can put the Congress back on
the rails, what was wrong with Kesri?'

Even as she ridicules the state of affairs in the Congress, Sonia
seems 'to forget that it is the party's organisational machinery
that is her biggest strength. 'Re Congress is a party with deep
roots and a large network of dedicated workers. That is why
Sonia is attracting large crowds in the areas where the party has
been traditionally strong, In Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, where
the party machinery has broken down, Sonia's personal charisma
did not work.

The BJP, on the other hand, is a liability for Vajpayee. He's
described as a good man in a bad party, but, unlike Sonia, he
never shies away from being accountable for the party's
performance and its ideological commitments. In a democracy, a
leader has to be accountable to the people. Sonia must not forget
that even when an established leader like Indira Gandhi imposed
Emergency and closed all channels of public scrutiny, she was
decimated by the people.

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