Sonia Gandhi who led the INC in the 1999 elections is the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, the elder son of Indira Gandhi. She was born in Italy to a European Christian family. She met Rajiv Gandhi in England and married him. Indira Gandhi intended to inherit her party to her younger son Sanjay. But Sanjay died in a plane crash in 1980. So Indira Gandhi forced her elder son, who had no interest in politics, to resign from his job as a pilot and join politics. In 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Rajiv Gandhi was proclaimed her heir. He was Prime Minister of India until 1989. In the 1991 election campaign a suicide bomber assassinated him. The Congress appointed Narsimha Rao as its new leader. After losing the 1996 elections Rao resigned. For sometime Sitaram Kesari was the leader, but many Congress members saw in Sonia Gandhi as the new leader and gave her lot of respect. They thought that the Congress needs a ‘Gandhi’ as its leader to attract votes.
In the 1999 elections Sonia Gandhi led the INC party, but it did not win the elections. In 2004 elections she again led the party and this time INC won the elections. But when offered the Prime Minister ship, Sonia Gandhi refused the offer claiming her ‘inner voice’ prevented her from doing so. She remains the party leader and another senior party member, Man Mohan Singh, was selected Prime Minister of India.
Sonia Gandhi is the leader of the Congress Party in India.
Although Sonia could have become the first foreign-born Indian Prime Minister, she declined the opportunity.
In the May 2005 Parliamentary Elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, Sonia led the Congress Party to victory over the ruling BJP.
Sonia’s victory was aided by anti-incumbency sentiments as well as the large-scale disenchantment of millions of people belonging to the lower classes, who have been mostly left behind in the economic reforms exercise of the BJP.
Sonia’s rapid rise in the political arena highlights two interesting aspects of Indian politics – In a country, where Hindus account for a majority of the population, Indian voters have not hesitated to embrace a Roman Catholic Videshi (Hindi word for foreigner).
Sonia’s quick rise to the top of the Congress party illustrates the weakness of the Congress party and indeed the Indian political system. As political scientists like Samuel Huntington have written, in mature political systems the path to the top often takes decades during which time the leader gains experience in lesser positions and learns the art of governance in the process.
Sonia has so far had very limited experience in the rough and tumble of politics and almost no experience in the art of governance. This raises questions of how effective Sonia can be as head of the ruling party of a complex nation like India with its myriad castes and religions and multitude of problems.
If Sonia had become Prime Minister, she would have been the fourth
member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to become Prime Minister of India
following in the footsteps of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv
Congress must implement more pro-poor policies and take this as another chance to make the policies work. There is a huge gap between policies and their implementation, with corruption taking the shine away. The new government will be instrumental in seeing India into the changing geopolitical landscape with the relative decline of the west.
Humility and genuine efforts to make development work for the poor within India should be combined with long-term strategic and geopolitical thinking. Whether Congress succeeds in providing effective leadership to becoming a possible global power or remains preoccupied with holding on to domestic power, India-watchers will have to wait and see. For the moment at least, I am relieved that my predictions about the Hindu nationalist BJP did not come true.