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Sonia - The Pasta of Politics

Sandhya Jain
The Pioneer
14th September 1999

    Ttile: Sonia - The Pasta of Politics
    Author: Sandhya Jain
    Publication: The Pioneer
    Date: 14th September 1999
    Sonia Gandhi has wisely refrained from fielding daughter, Priyanka
    Vadra, against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lucknow.
    Notwithstanding the carefully crafted media hype, Priyanka as
    political piece the resistance strains credulity. For the past several
    years, her public profile consists exclusively of the parties, fashion
    shows and cultural events she attends, the restaurants she dines at,
    and the Italian eatery she wished to launch at a controversial
    shopping arcade. Of course, there have been valiant attempts to
    buttress her curriculum vitae, first as a social worker and now as a
    'born' leader. 
    As such, Priyanka as challenger to a statesman of Vajpayee's stature
    would have enraged public opinion for its sheer presumptuousness. Far
    from being the mother of all campaigns, it would have been a re-run of
    the Rajiv Gandhi vs Menaka Gandhi contest in Amethi, in which the
    latter was perceived as the 'pretender.' 
    I suspect, however, that there were far more pragmatic reasons behind
    Sonia Gandhi's prudence. Fielding Priyanka at a time when Congressmen
    have virtually conceded defeat in Bellary would have put her own
    putative comeback in Amethi in jeopardy. After all, Congress did not
    win a single seat in Uttar Pradesh in 1998, not even Amethi, so
    victory cannot be taken for granted. The very fact that Congress has
    pinned all hopes on Priyanka exposes the organization's hollowness,
    not to mention Sonia's own charisma, in this crucial constituency. 
    Despite this, Sonia has more important reasons to keep Priyanka at
    bay, at least in this election. Bringing Priyanka into the fray in
    mid-stream would be like admitting the opposition charge that she is a
    'foreigner.' It would also create a rival centre of power in the
    party, a fact the canny Signora would not relish. 
    Even so, Dr Karan Singh's candidature is an anti-climax. It is not
    that Singh lacks credentials. Well known nationally and
    internationally, a blue-blooded royal, former minister, former
    ambassador, and erudite scholar, he easily ranks among India's least
    pretentious and popular ex-maharajahs. But not even the most diehard
    optimist gives him - a rank outsider in Lucknow - an outside chance
    against Vajpayee. 
    Analyzing Singh's nomination, however, helps understand Sonia's
    mindset and style of functioning. As always, the script is prepared in
    secret with the backroom boys, and the party merely told the role it
    is expected to play. But the trouble with backroom boys is that they
    are distant from the ground reality, and also, they tend to repeat an
    idea/slogan/trick that has succeeded in an entirely different context.
    A case of trying to fool all the people all the time.
    To understand, recall 1984. A Congress expecting a landslide victory
    in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination decided to humiliate the
    opposition at the hustings. Former Gwalior ruler, Madhavrao Scindia,
    was sprung on an unsuspecting Vajpayee, and the stalwart bit the dust.
    But that was Scindia territory, then. Today, in 1999, Madhavrao has
    fled Gwalior to seek refuge in his mother's constituency, Guna. 
    Congress' backroom boys, however, don't factor in such minor details
    when they prepare their grand strategies. They have to avenge Bellary.
    Never mind that Vajpayee is now fighting from Lucknow in UP (and not
    MP), and that Scindia doesn't have the stomach for a fight anywhere.
    Scindia's samdhi (daughter's father-in-law) is roped in to do the
    trick. After all, old wine in a new bottle is better than new wine in
    an old bottle. Readers who could not fathom how Dr Karan Singh
    suddenly emerged as Congress's great white hope in Lucknow, would now
    have the mystery cleared up. It's yesterday once more - 1984 in 1999. 
    This raises fundamental questions about Sonia Gandhi's persona and
    style of politics. For all her shrill, staccato style of shooting off
    charges and innuendoes against opponents, Sonia Gandhi's campaign
    lacks credibility because of her shoddy political skills, lack of
    knowledge of the country and its ethos, and poor responses in a
    complex and dynamic national and international situation. This gives
    her campaign an utterly bizarre and unreal quality - it is difficult
    to believe that it is taking place in the same time zone as the BJP's. 
    I will list only a few obvious points. About a fortnight ago, a
    Catholic priest, Father Arul Doss, was murdered in Orissa. The Prime
    Minister was quick to condemn the killing and demand that the state
    government take action to arrest the culprits and enforce the rule of
    law. Sonia Gandhi, however, has maintained a studied silence on the
    issue. No doubt she will speak when she goes to campaign in Orissa,
    for by then the backroom boys would have written a suitably emotive
    text; till then, she need not even denounce the incident, something
    that even VHP supremo Ashok Singhal has done. Nor will she comment on
    the increased social unrest caused by the Christian insistence on
    conversions. The US desire to send a so-called 'religious envoy'
    (whatever that means) and the Government's refusal to succumb to this
    unwarranted interference, also went unnoticed by the Signora. 
    Then, Sonia Gandhi has called the Prime Minister a traitor and dubbed
    the Kargil victory a failure. But she has maintained a deafening
    silence on the fate of the four missing Indian soldiers who are
    suspected to be in Pakistani custody. Incidents take place on the
    border daily, but she appears unconcerned. She supported the gross
    allegations of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, but did not comment upon fairly
    extensive press reports on the initial failure of army intelligence
    and ground level commanders. Perhaps the reason is that she cannot
    then blame the government for political failure. Or perhaps her
    speechwriters failed to provide copy. One shudders to think where
    India would be today if President Narayanan had actually succeeded in
    swearing her in as Prime Minister. 
    Above all, there is the issue of Bofors. Sonia fell silent after the
    BJP provided reams of evidence about countryman Ottavio Quattrochi's
    complicity in the Bofors payoff scandal, while party spokesman Kapil
    Sibal tried to cover up, saying there was nothing illegal about
    Quattrochi's contract with Bofors. But now that she is standing for
    public office, Sonia Gandhi has to tell the nation in what capacity
    Quattrochi negotiated the deal, how and why he was entertained by the
    Rajiv Government, which had said there would be no middlemen in the
    deal. The pertinent issue, which has been exercising the nation since
    the scandal first broke out, is whether Quattrochi was a front man for
    other parties in the deal, and who these parties are.  
    Finally, Sonia has loftily declared that she became an Indian the day
    she became Indira Gandhi's daughter-in-law, and that actual
    citizenship is a mere technicality. But what is the Hindu ethos that
    she has imbibed from her mother-in-law and from her thirty years stay
    in this country? Today, as she covers her head for election meetings,
    one is tempted to ask why she never knew that in this country, no
    matter what you do in your secular life, the Hindu temple is the one
    place where you must cover your head. Out of respect to God.
    Particularly in South India. But both she and Priyanka thought nothing
    of storming into sanctum sanctorum of Tirupathi, the holiest of our
    holy shrines, bare-headed, after refusing to sign the register
    expressing faith in Lord Balaji. It was an assault on the very roots
    of Indian culture.

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