Congress Dynasty Back on Road
by Syed Atiq ul Hassan
Sonia Gandhi, an Italian-born Indian, widow of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, thwarted all the pre-poll predictions in the Indian election of world's largest democracy.
A month ago she didn't stand an outside chance of beating the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Showing confidence in the roaring economy, prospects of peace initiatives with Pakistan and hoisting Hindu ideology over secularism, Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee called the polls six month early. The entire election campaign has been revolving around Vajpayee-brand. BJP's spin doctors brought high-flying and charming words 'Feel Good' and 'India Shining' as major tools in the election campaign. Yet, all these cards could not bring BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) a required majority in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) to continue rule the India.
Compared to the last Lok Sabha result when (NDA) won 298 seats, Congress 135 and others 131, NDA could only gain 187 seats. Unpredictably Congress with its allies won 215 and others (Samajwadi Party, Bhojan Samaj and left wings) secured 137 from 539 of 543 seats.
The election outcome proved all opinion experts wide of the mark. The stock exchange went down and the over confident BJP leaders shocked with verdict given by the people of India. This verdict shows how democracy works in India.
BJP's political devices could not magnetize the majority. Putting the Ram Mandir (Ram temple) issue on a low profile, induction of Muslim politicians in the front row, promoting Indo-Pak friendship and condemning Sonia's origin as non-Indian did not work. However, the outgoing Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani who was expecting at least 250 seats up to the end said that there was no anti-incumbency wave and Anti-BJP feeling in the public. He blamed the overpowering local issues and alliances for the reasons of BJP's defeat.
There is no doubt that the Indian economy has been elevated in BJP rule but it is also true that the primary beneficiaries have remained the rich and the urban middle class. The graph of poverty, unemployment and lack of basic necessities has been remained the same if not decreased. It is believed that on the whole, India's less privileged - the rural masses and the urban poor - appeared to have found the BJP's 'Feel Good' campaign unacceptable and a joke.
On the other hand, realising the feelings of the common people; 190 years old, Congress Party which had ruled about 45 years in the past, contested the election on traditional election manifesto. Congress focused on the common issues of common people, poverty, unemployment, utilities, electricity, water and transportation. And the election result endorsed that daily life necessities are more important than the high-tech achievements in India.
An important factor in politics, especially, in South Asian politics is the leadership or political dynasty. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and now in India, have proved dynastical background of a politician is one of the main parameters in assessing politicians' credentials.
Late but not bad, Congress gurus brought Priyanka Vadhra and Rahul Gandhi ' the children of Sonia Gandhi and late Rajiv Gandhi ' into the election race. This move ignited Congress election campaign. The simple and plain language of Priyanka and Ruhul which generally never work in Asian Politics impressed the ordinary people of India and in the changing world.
Though the Gandhi family is not related to Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi but dominated Indian politics since independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister headed the country from independence until his death in 1964. He was followed by his daughter, Indira Gandhi, who was killed by her own bodyguards in 1984. Rajiv, her son and Sonia's husband, took power and ruled until 1989. Two years later, Rajiv too was assassinated.
Commenting on the victory, Sonia Gandhi thanked the voters for their support. She said, over the next few days the process of government formation would gather to bring a strong, stable and secular government in India.
Now Congress party holds the number game in Lok Sabha and its traditional allies and left wings also hold enough seats in the house. BSP leader Mayawati and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadev have also said in their statements they would not support any communal-based party and would support Congress Party, if asked for support. It is clear Sonia Gandhi will make history in Indian ruling politics being of non-Indian origin and the daughter-in-law of longest serving Indira Gandhi to be the Prime Minister of India.
Belonging to a working class Italian family, Sonia met Rajiv Gandhi at a language school in Cambridge, England. They married in 1968, since then Sonia settled in India with her husband. She absorbed herself in Indian culture and found wearing Sari and speaking fluent Hindi. Sonia Gandhi preferred to remain by the sidelines, content in her roles as wife and a mother of two children till she actively got involved in politics. She became the President of Indian National Congress in 1998 and then elected to the member of 13th Lok Sabha, in 1999.
Sonia Gandhi, now 58 years of age, had been considered as an inexperienced politician in traditional politics but she turned out to be dynamic leader in making Congress Party a united voice. She travelled all over India and conducted quite a large number of election gatherings and she focused on dealing and mixing with the common people.
The out going Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee very ethically accepted his party defeat and without wasting any time presented his resignation to the President. He said, he would continue to work for brighter India and will help the ruling party whenever he will be asked. Mr. Vajpayee's highly valued remarks are being largely appreciated within and out side India. His peace initiative efforts with Pakistan will be acknowledged. Sonia Gandhi has also said in her recent statement that her government will continue to maintain the dialogue process with Pakistan and deal with all the issues with Pakistan including the issue of Kashmir.
Responding to the change in India, the Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri hoped the new government in New Delhi would carry forward the peace initiative with Pakistan. He said Pakistan was looking forward to seriously and closely engaging with the new government in India, to promote the process of peace and resolution of all outstanding issues.
One hopes Congress with its allies will bring change in the lives of the common person on the principles of fairness, harmony and secularism. Also continue the under going efforts of maintaining the friendly relations between India and Pakistan which has been a vital concern for the stability of the South Asia. (The writer is a Sydney-based journalist and an Analyst).
Concluded on 15th of May, 2004.