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Home > India > News > Columnists > Amulya Ganguli

Sonia's 10 years: Lacking in vision

March 14, 2008

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Sonia Gandhi [Images] can claim credit for having revived the Congress from a comatose state in 2004 with an unlikely ascent to power based on the cobbling together of a coalition. But if this remains her only achievement in her 10 years as party president, she will have only herself to blame.

The stature of a leader is not measured by electoral success alone, but by the vision which guides the party, and even the country. This is especially true of the Congress because of the way in which its outlook has moulded the national scene for over a century because of its liberal and forward-looking tradition. So, when the Congress leaders of the past articulated its secularism or saw industries as the temples of a new India, they delineated the path of the future.

The Congress's failure in recent years is its loss of vision. The party has been seen to be flirting with communalism by leaning towards 'soft' Hindutva or trying to imitate the caste-based regional outfits by focussing on reservations or speaking in favour of quotas in the private sector. Sonia Gandhi's failure has been her inability to rescue the party from such stale ideas and bring it more in tune with a changing, meritocratic India.

Instead, she -- and now son Rahul as well -- are falling back on the old populist nostrums of extravagant doles in the name of alleviating poverty, whether via the rural employment scheme or the latest waiver of farmers' loans.

Mercifully, she hasn't yet turned to her mother-in-law's fake socialistic practice of high taxes to make up for the huge expenditure which these schemes will entail, putting an enormous strain on the banking system. The reason perhaps is that the party still has sensible economists at the helm who can guard against such disastrous policies.

But what is increasingly becoming evident is the danger of Sonia Gandhi's lack of expertise in economic management taking the country into the blind alley of a tax-and-spend regime, where the only beneficiaries will be the middlemen like local � and not so local -- politicians acting in collusion with bureaucrats. What is odd is that she is taking this populist road in spite of her husband's warning that only four annas out of every rupee goes to the targeted beneficiary.

If her economic faux pas are compounded by her political blunders as well, then her record as the party chief may turn out to be quite dismal. On top of the list of her political mistakes is her excessive dependence on the Left. It seems that she has calculated that the Congress will have no option but to tie up with the Communists once again after the next general election. As such, she apparently does not want to antagonise the comrades in any way, however insolent and pugnacious they may be.

As a result, the Indo-US nuclear deal may well become a victim of her indulgent attitude towards Leftist tantrums on the subject. As a person from Italy [Images], where the Communists were once particularly influential, it is strange that she does not understand their devious nature.

If she makes the mistake of not sacrificing the government for the sake of the deal, as some of the party spokesmen are fond of saying, then her cup of woes is likely to become full. For, in one stroke, she will be handing over the middle classes to the Bharatiya Janata Party, tarnishing the Manmohan Singh [Images] government's reputation for throwing away a pearl richer than all his tribe, as Othello lamented.

Her presumption probably is that the loss of the urban middle and upper class vote can be compensated, first, by the gratefulness of the rural electorate over the employment scheme and the loan waiver and, secondly, by the Muslims angry with America. But the chances are that the Congress will fall between two stools because the voters in general will come to see the party as one whose sops fall into the wrong hands and, more importantly, which is forever kowtowing to its friends to keep them in good humour.

Historically, the Congress has tended to gain whenever its leaders gave it a new direction. Although Indira Gandhi's [Images] socialism proved to be false one, her garibi hatao slogan and strong-minded role in the liberation of Bangladesh underlined her distinctiveness. Rajiv Gandhi's promise to take India into the 21st century also struck a chord in the minds of the people.

In contrast, Sonia Gandhi has had little to show, apart from stitching together a ramshackle coalition and somehow sticking to power. But, if she had given the green signal to the nuclear deal and called the Left's bluff, she would have become the darling of the middle classes. And even those who did not understand the intricacies of the deal would have appreciated her gumption in standing by her prime minister and taking a decisive step. The world belongs to the bold, not to the timid bent on survival.

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