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Sonia Miano (Khan) Gandhi
The Kingmaker
Sonia Gandhi, who was born in Italy and married into the dynasty,begged her husband to stay out of politics and was drawn into it herself only when the party was in dire need of leadership.  A new generation of Gandhis arrived to save ailing, incompent and shameless Indian party from disaster at the polls in 2004.   Sonia Gandhi inducted her son Rahul and daghter Priyanka into politics and they actively participated and won in the recent elections.   A calcified, out-of-touch, visionless and nepotistic dynasty is poised once again to lead and the dynasty rule continues in the world's largest democracy, albeit with fresh and young Indo-Iranian-Italian genes having Brahmin-Christian-Muslim-Parsi culture with charm and charisma which no other Indian can claim.   The Indian democracy has now achieved the dubious distinction of a dynasty democracy, where the power remains in the hands of a Nehru-Khan-Gandhi dynasty.  Sonia Gandhi's rise from a small-town in Italy to modern India is a story of love, death and dynasty, culminating in the most sensational victory of an Italian middle class woman ever to become the kingmaker in the Indian Union of a billion people.  She ran the country for five years from behind scenes by installing Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister of the Indian Union. She is going to run the country for another five years, as the shaky coalition governement of UPA of 2004 with Communist backward crutches gave way to a stronger coalition of UPA lead by the Sonia's Congress with more strength in the Parliament.  Sonia managed to releive the Congress from the clutches of the Communist drag on the progress and prosperity of the country, paving the way for better reforms. For the first time, after Jawaharlal Nehru, Sonia has installed a Congress government for a second term at the Center with Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister of the Indian Union.  


Sonia was born in 1946 in small town of Orbassano seven miles from Italy's busy metropolis of Turin, in the Tuscan countryside. Her father, Stephano, doted on his "little princess" and provided his three daughters with a strict Catholic education.  Her mother and two sisters still live in Orbassano, in a terracotta-coloured two-storey house on the outskirts of town.  The residents of Orbassano told India's Outlook magazine recently they remember the young woman who was a "hard working, intelligent girl" with a "very good singing voice".  The road leading east out of Orbassano is called Via Rajiv Gandhi, after Sonia's late husband and the last member of the world's most successful political dynasty to be Indian prime minister.

She became an Indian citizen in 1983, 15 years after she married Rajiv at the age of 21.  The two met at Cambridge, where she was studying English and Rajiv was studying engineering and ultimately failed to get any degree.  Arriving in India in 1968, the young Mrs Gandhi struggled to cope with the country's deeply ingrained culture. At first, she did not like Indian food or clothes and there was a minor uproar when she was pictured in a miniskirt sucking on a lolly.

The Nehru-Gandhis are India's first family of politics, whose rise has been marred by tragedy.  Sonia's mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. Her husband, Rajiv was blown up by a Srilankan Tamil suicide bomber in 1991 (The Sri Lankan LTTE was responsible for the assasination, whose leader Mr. Prabhakaran was killed in 2009, ending a several decades of Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka).

After her husband's death, Mrs Gandhi quietly departed from public life giving an opportunity for the Congress party to avoid the dynasty, leaving the reins of the party in the hands of aging former PM Mr. Narasimharao Pamulaparti (PV), who started the economic reforms making a U turn from Nehru's policies.  He gave her the needed respite from politics.  But she was wooed back by a floundering Congress party in 1997 and agreed to campaign, hoping that the Gandhi name would cast a spell over the electorate, which worked magic on the Congress Party as well, which was fractured without a force to hold it together.  She is a talented linguist who can converse in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Russian.  In the beginning she read short speeches with the Hindi in Roman script. Now fluent in Hindi, she can attract the masses in the northern India and speak to them in a language they understand.  

The reason for her success in 2004 was a combination of hard work, Gandhi name, and mostly the increase in the gap between the rich and poor in the recent economic boom lead by the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party. BJP may be compared to right wing American Repucblican Party. However, while Republican Party is supported by Christian Coalition in a country founded under principles of Judeo-Christian principles and God, the secular BJP is supported by Hindu groups in the Indian Union founded under a secular Constituion.  While booming economy benefitted the urban and middle class, the rural India remained where it was left by Congress causing jealousy and discontent among the poor.  This inevitable gap worked to her advantage in 2004.

Sonia's grasp of policy issues appeared shaky, but not any more.  She has shaped a winning strategy for the Congress party to a second term in a row.  Her idea to target rural India, from Indira Gandhi's "Garibi Hatao" (remove poverty) slogan in 1970s that paid rich dividends for Indira, which remains chained to poverty and has been left behind as the urban centres modernise, has paid off one more time. It is a very popular theme that draws crowds and a vote winner, for it is the poor that votes in India.  Her message that India did not shine was successful in 2004.  She also added glamour by bringing into politics her handsome son Rahul (34) and beautiful daughter Priyanka (33), and sent a strong message that the Gandhi dynasty was here to stay.  She also made it clear that Muslims who vote in block and make a big difference at hustings, who make up 25% of India's 1 billion people, had nothing to fear from a Congress party that has been traditionally minority leaning and drew support from minority religions.  On moral decisions in family life and politics, she commented recently, "I suppose these Catholic (Christian) values are at the back of my mind.  I feel very strongly about India being a secular state. By secular state I mean one that will encompass all religions."  

During 2009 elections and after, there were calls for Rahul Gandhi to be the prime minister.  Both Sonia and Rahul put India's interests and the long term success ahead of the short term interests, and rebuffed those calls for the good of the nation and declared Dr. Singh as the Prime Minister.  This has definitely enhanced their stature in the eyes of the Indian electorate.  Sonia has successfully nurtured the dynasty that will stay for many more decades leading the Congress Party and the country, as Rahul Gandhi has become an unstoppable charismatic leader to reckon with.

The 2009 elections showed that success is still possible with shrewed use of populist politics that appease poor.  It appears that Sonia has learned from BJP's failure to cash on their economic success.  Development which does not rest on social justice and socio-political harmony cannot reap much benefits, especially in a democracy where voters determine the fate of governments. The BJP has ushered in a two-party system in the country, breaking the dominance of the single dominant party polity. For a democracy to be stable, a bipolar polity like the one that emerged due to the emergence of BJP is essential.  The 2009 election results are an indication of maturity of Indian democracy, as the smaller parties, Third Front and Communists lost.  However, unless BJP revitalizes itself and changes the strategy focussing on economy and national interests, India may return to one-party polity.

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