Political capital is not eternal, and Sonia Gandhi is one such example in Indian politics. Once a savior, a person who rejected the position of the Prime Minister plainly and simply, today comes across as a dynast that has failed to gauge the change in society and decline of her organization simultaneously. The longest-serving president of India’s grand old party Congress finally announced her retirement and asked the party to find the right head for the post. The emotional and very public attack of the struggling Congress leadership was the latest indicator of how quickly the power of the long-dominant party has shrunken since it was routed in May’s election. After dominating the front pages of the country’s newspapers for years, news of the party has fallen deep inside the papers. Some media houses became a mouthpiece of the ruling party and carried the agenda of restlessly humiliating Gandhi’s daughter in law.
Sonia, born in a small village near Vicenza, Italy, was raised in a Roman Catholic family. After completing her primary education at local schools, she moved for language classes to Cambridge, England, where she met Rajiv Gandhi and later married him in 1968. She then moved to India and started living with her mother-in-law, the then-Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi, however, kept away from the public sphere, even during the years of her husband’s premiership. Following her husband’s assassination, Gandhi was invited by Congress leaders to lead the party, but she denied it. In 1997 after much pleading from the party, the following year, she was nominated for party president and elected over Jitendra Prasada. Under her leadership, the Congress went on to form the government post the 2004 elections in coalition with other center-left political parties. Gandhi has since been credited for being instrumental in formulating the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which was re-elected to power in 2009. Gandhi declined the premiership following the 2004 victory; she instead led the ruling alliance and the National Advisory Council.
Throughout her career, Gandhi presided over the advisory councils credited for the formation and subsequent implementation of such rights-based development and welfare schemes as the right to information, Food security bill, and MNREGA, as she drew criticism related to the Bofors scandal and the National Herald Case. Her foreign birth has also been a subject of much debate and controversy. Gandhi’s active participation in politics began to reduce during the latter half of the UPA government’s second term owing to health concerns. She stepped down as the Congress president in December 2017 but returned to lead the party in August 2019. Although she never held any public office in the government of India but managed her party with the utmost courage and compassion. Acknowledging the rise of the BJP and admitting that the youth resolutely voted for Narendra Modi, her letter points out that the erosion of the support base and losing the confidence of the youth are matters of serious concern.
Sonia Gandhi alias née Maino; remained in office for nineteen years, she was seen as the most powerful politician of India from 2004 – 2014 and variously listed among the most powerful people and women listings by magazines. In 2013, Sonia Gandhi was ranked 21st among the world’s most powerful and 9th most powerful woman by Forbes Magazine. In 2007, she had been named the third most powerful woman in the world by the same magazine and was ranked 6th in an exclusive list in 2007. She was ranked 12 in 2012 in Forbes’ powerful people list. Sonia was also named among the Time 100 most influential people in the world for the years 2007 and 2008. New Statesman listed Sonia Gandhi at number 29 in their annual survey of “The World’s 50 Most Influential Figures” in the year 2010. She was at the helm of international media attention, but form 2013; the anger was created against Congress on the false charges of corruption; even today, none of those black money and corruption are proven against them. There were several attacks on her son-in-law, but nothing was proven against him. Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev, and so call many anti-corruption crusaders successfully carried out the preplanned agenda of creating hate against the longest-ruling party, and simultaneously, brand Modi got introduced as BJP’s PM candidate. BJP won the 2014 elections with a huge mandate not because of its merits but by creating negative perceptions against Congress and especially the Gandhi family.
Six years after the party’s electoral rout pushed it into a continuing descending spiral. A lot of blame has been heaped on Rahul Gandhi, who has already conceded defeat but in essence, today’s Congress is in shambles because Sonia Gandhi’s model of politics has distorted with the generational shift in its core leadership. When Sonia Gandhi took charge of the Congress, the organization was demoralized but existed in many states with plenty of leaders. Her work was primarily focused on getting the Congress families together all across India.
She did not overhaul the organization. She only ensured that state satraps are aligned to the leadership who otherwise were not interested in listening to each other. The politics of regional satraps also worked because of mystique surrounding Sonia Gandhi. Sonia had the deep sympathy of people because of the tragic circumstance in which Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. Her lack of work on organization and focus on individual-family connection politics not only added to the downfall in 2014 but also repeat defeat in 2019. The Congress calculation was again hinged on a number of regional and local dynasts that would be able to retain their seats. In 2019, the only party won, and individual candidates barring odd few lost. In a way, 2019 has ended Sonia Gandhi’s model of politics completely. Many would say as to where does Rahul Gandhi stand in all this? I would say that his tinkering with NSUI and Youth Congress acted as a catalyst for the demise of the system, which was already rotting from within. Instead of picking and pushing fresh talent, elections made the process expensive, casting out poorer and not so rich aspirants.
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