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The crown she thrice refused not - The Pioneer

Sandhya Jain ()
January 26, 1998

Title: The crown she thrice refused not
Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: January 26, 1998

Ms Sonia Gandhi has clearly decided not to repeat the
mistakes of her ancient compatriot, Julius Caesar. Indeed,
the alacrity with which she has accepted the Congress
crown brings to mind the wisdom of another Italian notable
and his rather acute observation: en more readily
forgive the murder of their fathers (read husbands) than
the loss of their patrimony (Machiavelli, The Prince).

So it is hardly surprising that having discredited her own
party's Government over the inquiry into her husband's
assassination, and pulling down the United Front regime
on the specific issue of Tamil representation in it, Ms
Gandhi should piously claim that Tamil hold special
place in her family's heart and briskly put the
assassination episode behind her.

She has wasted no time in getting on to the big picture at
her first proper election meeting, with a smart offensive
on the Bofors scandal and a sharp attack on the BJP espousal
of the socio- economic- cultural aspirations of the
majority community. With a determination that belies the
expectations of even those who suspected her of shrewdness,
Ms Sonia Gandhi has assumed the de facto leadership of
Congress and made it clear that it manifesto will bear her
stamp, the candidates will be selected by her, funds will be
allocated by her, and she alone will chalk out the strategy
and tenor of its electoral campaign.

Already she has declared above ollective leadership=94. By
all accounts, top Congress leaders have not been privy to
her prepared speeches at Sriperumbudur of Bangalore, nor
will they be allowed a sat in the contents of her future
utterances, even though the future of the party hinges so
precariously on her performance. But whatever dividends Ms
Gandhi may bring the beleaguered Congress, she has chalked
out her agenda with scrupulous attention to her own needs.

The careful grabbing of the limelight for herself and
duaghter, Priyanka Vadra, at Sriperumbudur for instance, is
reminiscent of the manner in which senior Congress leaders
were shunted out of 10, Janpath when foreign dignitaries
arrived to pay respects after Rajiv Gandhi assassination,
even though it was the Congress President and former Prime
Minister for whom they had come. Her spectacular offensive
at Bangalore must have similar nonplussed the Congress old
guard, which is acutely sensitive to the extent of the
party's vulnerability in the Bofors scandal.

Yet, for all her seeming guileleness, there is a method in
Ms Gandhi madness. She is fully alive to the critical stage
the probe has reached, and conscious that the scandal
touches her personally in the form of compatriot Ottavio
Quattrochi and his wife Maria, who have been formally named
as recipients of the kickbacks. More pertinently, the
scandal can engulf her children - and effectively scotch her
daughter's fledging ambitions, should it turn out that they
are the beneficiaries of the secret trusts to which the
payoffs have been diverted, a possibility that cannot be
ruled out.

In this context, it is easy to discern Ms Gandhi's motives
in raising the spectre of Bofors precisely the way she did
at Bangalore. By unexpectedly seizing the initiative, she
deftly sought to limit the fallout of the inquiry to the
deceased Rajiv Gandhi, and to make out that it is a fight
between a dead man and his jealous political rivals. The
move is shrewd, though cold-blooded, and if Ms Sonia Gandhi
has no qualms about misusing her late husband while
forwarding her political interests, she cannot cry foul when
opposition parties raise the issue of probity and
accountability in public life, and the extra-constitutional
powers she may have exercised as the Prime Minister's wife,
not to mention her subsequent role in the slow pace of the

Questions about her Italian origins are legitimate in view
of the access she may have provided to foreign agents,
already evident in the Bofors case. Today, Sonia Gandhi
seeks blind acceptance on the basis of her 30-year stay in
India as a member of Indira Gandhi's family, but will she be
so good as to tell us where her loyalty to the family, not
to mention her much- vaunted love for India, was when she
sought refuge in the Italian Embassy in New Delhi after the
Congress party's defeat in 1977? What is truly remarkable in
this controversy, however, is the exalted cosmopolitanism of
certain sections of our intelligentsia, who can countenance
the thought of an outsider, for whom even English is a
foreign language, as Prime Minister, with equanimity .

Ms Gandhi has gushed about Rajiv's personal commitment to
the Babri structure in the hope that her audience will
listen without application of mind. She needs to understand
that rewriting history is a risky enterprise; it pays off
only if you have absolute power, or when public memory is so
faded that none can remember the truth. But since she has
valiantly, if somewhat foolishly, initiated the debate, it
is valid to ask what Rajiv had conceived for the Babri
structure in view of the fact that it was he who permitted
the shilanyas for the Ram Rajya campaign from Ayodhya.

More pertinently, given the rumours that rent the air when
the locks at Ayodhya were opened, it is time to ask her
whether it is true that this was part of a deal with a
Hindu organisation to allow the pope to have a demonstration-
free visit to India? Given the cynicism with which
religious sentiments were exploited during Rajiv Gandhi's
regime, it is only fair to ask Ms Gandhi to what extent
the riots that broke out after the opening of the shrine
were the fallout of visits of certain Congress leaders to
certain states? Finally, since she has posited Babri as a
Muslim issue, she must tell us whether she has anything
beyond the Muslim Women's (Protection of Rights on
Divorce) Act to offer to Muslim women .

Much is being made about her exemplary conduct after
widowhood(a euphemism for the sexual reticence common in
Indian women), and her studied non-interest in politics
until orced to jump to the party's rescue. The record,
however, shows that Ms Gandhi has scrupulously kept abreast
of all developments in the party, the Government, and the
Bofors case; and encouraged Congress leaders to call upon
her, especially when they had grievances with Mr PV
Narasimha Rao and Mr Sitaram Kesri. Even a cursory look at
the events leading to the exit of Mr Arjun Singh and Mr
Narain Dutt Tiwari, when Mr Rao rebuffed her move to avert
a split , bears this out.

As for her refusal to join politics, I may point out that
it is a standard Indian practice, in rich and political
famiulies, for widows to bide their time till their heirs
attain maturity. It is, therefore, no surprise that Ms
Gandhi condescended to escue the Congress only when
her daughter became eligible to contest election. It will
be entirely in line with her style of functioning if , in
another urprise move, Ms Priyanka Gandhi is fielded
>from an old family constituency .

Yet, despite her skilful obfuscation of critical issues,
Ms Gandhi real battle is not so much with the BJP as
with Mr Narasimha Rao, who single-handedly reversed the
trend of establishing India as a non-Hindu enterprise.
She has already declared her side with her pronounced
stress on minorities. Mr Rao has not been given the
party ticket, but significantly, he has already won the
first round in the manner of Harijan leader BD Maurya's
exit . Her reply is awaited.

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