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VIEW: Sonia's weakness as leader is destroying India

By Amberish K Diwanji
Last updated on: September 25, 2013 15:17 IST
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What the ordinance overturning the Supreme Court order debarring jailed MPs and MLAs from contesting elections reveals is that Sonia Gandhi is not a leader; rather, she is being led, says Amberish K Diwanji.

The recent ordinance by the United Progressive Alliance government allowing jailed elected representatives to contest elections is not just a body blow to the process of cleaning up our politics, but reveals just how low the current UPA and its leader Sonia Gandhi are willing to sink in their desperate effort to retain power.

The blame for this must lie with Sonia Gandhi, and not Manmohan Singh, because she is the leader of the UPA and the Congress. This ordinance was the result of her decision, made to buy the loyalty of the various UPA allies before the 2014 elections.

Granted that the demand for repealing the Supreme Court order against jailed members of Parliament and members of legislative assemblies was made by most parties, but the Congress (and particularly its top leaders, Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh) have always pretended to be above petty politics and who take the high road when it comes to dealing with crime and corruption. One would have expected them to stand up to the bullying tactics of the allies and sundry MPs and MLAs, and do what is right for India. Instead, they readily bowed, and did not even take the chance of bringing in a bill to nullify the court order, for fear that the Bharatiya Janata Party might oppose the bill and thus take the moral ground.  

What the ordinance reveals is that Sonia Gandhi is not a leader; rather, she is being led. Over the last few years, Sonia Gandhi has given in to populist measures and corruption, all in a bid to keep the Congress in power and with the aim of ensuring its victory in 2014. She is turning out to be one of India’s weakest leaders ever, unwilling to do what is right, but merely doing what is needed for electoral victory.

It isn’t easy being Sonia Gandhi. As widow of Rajiv Gandhi, as dutiful daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, she perhaps feels duty bound to head the Congress party. But why do the Congressmen tolerate her? Why are they ever so willing to bow before her? The answer is twofold. First, for better or worse, as the inheritor of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, she manages to keep the Congress united, just the way the descendants of Babur kept the Mughal dynasty intact. The moment the central leadership weakens, the various vassals will assert their independent authority, and worse, fall upon each other. No one knows this better than the Congressmen themselves.

India’s politics is full of factions tearing out each other; the logic is to make sure no one becomes too powerful (if you really want a good example, just watch the events in the BJP, where the entire top leadership remains hostile to the rise of Modi). The Congress needs Sonia Gandhi, because under her, they are all equal and can enjoy the fruits of power and enrich themselves, happy to be petty lords and aware that none among their peers can rise to the top as long as the Dynasty remains at the helm (actually, more than the Mughal empire, India today resembles the Delhi sultanate with a weak centre and powerful local leaders more or less free to do what they want as long as they pay homage to the Sultan).

The second reason is that she has managed to ensure the Congress/UPA’s victory. Not just once, but twice, which is why Congressmen and women swear by her (and the Family). Sonia Gandhi must be acutely aware that the day she cannot bring the Congress to victory, she will be hung out to dry by the very same Congress party that swears by her today. P V Narasimha was never chucked out for failing to protect the Babri Masjid (if that was the reason, it should have happened in 1992). He paid the price for failing to lead the Congress to victory in 1996. And in her case, there is always a ready excuse to ease her out: her Italian origins. The day she fails to deliver victories, someone or the other will cite her foreign ancestry, which can easily become the excuse to ease her out.

Paradoxically, in 2004, Sonia was at the height of her power. Then, she had nothing to lose and the Congress leaders were desperate for her, believing (rightly as it turned out) that the Nehru-Gandhi legacy would not just unite the party, but help them secure victory. Sonia delivered the goods, and in an even more important gesture, refused the crown, making Manmohan Singh the prime minister. At that moment, she was omnipotent. Alas, it has been downhill ever since.

Today, the cost of retaining power has been forcing Sonia Gandhi to make one compromise after the other, be it within the party or with allies, and even taking steps that she (and Manmohan Singh) realise are not in India’s best interests. Such as the ordinance that allows jailed rapists, murderers and scamsters to contest elections.

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