By Mubasshir Mushtaq
NEW DELHI – From a sleepy Italian village to the power corridors of Delhi; Congress Party President Sonia Maino Gandhi’s journey reads like a fairytale.
She moved to India in 1968 after marrying Rajiv Gandhi, the son of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, but the assassinations of both —- Indira in 1984 and Rajiv in 1991 — pushed her into the spotlight. After six years of persistent refusal, during which the ruling Congress party had faced a leadership crisis and large-scale defections, in 1997 Sonia Gandhi joined the fight to reverse the downward slide of India’s grand old party.
In 1999, Gandhi contested her first election becoming the Leader of Opposition in India’s lower house of Parliament, while the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government ruled India. For five years, she quietly worked to revive Congress’s dwindling fortunes, even as her opponents and rivals chastised her for being “foreign”.
In the 2004 national election, Gandhi surprised many as her party tore into the BJP’s marketing blitz, dislodging the right-wing party and defying all poll predictions. The victory was Gandhi’s but she “sacrificed” the prime ministerial post when the issue of her “foreign birth” was revived; she became the chairperson of the coalition government. In 2007, Time magazine termed her the “most influential Indian.”
For the next 10 years, Gandhi remained the unquestioned leader of the Congress-led coalition government. She has been credited with introducing a number of landmark legislations like Right to Information, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Right to Education, Right to Food – part of what her opponents have called her “socialist” agenda.
Gandhi’s grip began to slip after the 2009 re-election as her coalition partners’ names figured in a number of corruption scandals that resulted in mass public anger against the incumbent government. Gandhi’s silence on a series of alleged scams, including a controversial land-deal involving her son-in-law Robert Vadra, has come in for sharp criticism by the opposition and political analysts.
In 2014 election, Gandhi contested from her seat of Rae Bareli in India’s biggest state of Uttar Pradesh but barely campaigned because of an unknown medical condition. Her 43-year-old son Rahul Gandhi took the reigns. To advance what critics are calling the “continuation of dynastic politics”.