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May 2009

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 Congress party was in dire need of leadership.  A new generation of Gandhis arrived to save ailing, incompetent and shameless Indian party from disaster at the polls in 2004. Sonia Gandhi inducted her son Rahul and daughter 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 government 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 relieve 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 the 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[1].  Her mother and two sisters still live in Orbassano, in a terracotta-colored two-story house on the outskirts of town.  The residents of Orbassano told India's Outlook magazine[2] 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, young Sonia 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 lollypop. 

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 Sri Lankan Tamil suicide bomber[3] in 1991. 


After her husband's death, Sonia 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)[4], 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). The BJP may be compared to right wing American Republican Party. However, while Republican Party is supported by Christian Coalition in a country founded under the Judeo-Christian principles and God, the secular BJP is supported by Hindu groups in the Indian Union founded under a secular Constitution.  

 

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[5]. Sonia's grasp of policy issues appeared shaky, but not anymore.  She has shaped a winning strategy for the Congress party to a second term in a row by targeting rural poor left behind as the urban centers modernized with Indira Gandhi's "Garibi Hatao" (remove poverty)[6], the slogan of 1970s that paid rich dividends for Indira. 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 make up 25% of India's 1 billion people and vote in block and make a big difference at hustings, had nothing to fear from a Congress party that has been traditionally minority leaning drawing support from the so-called 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[7]."  

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 shrewd use of populist politics that appease poor.  It appears that Sonia has learned from BJP's failure to cash in on their economic success.  Development which does not rest on social justice and socio-political harmony cannot reap much benefits[8], 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 focusing on economy and national interests, India may return to one-party polity where a coalition of small parties will be led by the Congress Party.

 

Update (July 2018): Narendra Damodardas Modi[9] revitalized and led the BJP victory in the 2014 general election with a majority in the Lok Sabha (House of Commons), for the first time since 1984. 

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[1] Christian-Missionary Raj In India Thru Sonia (Miano) Gandhi

[2] NICEST GIRL OF ORBASSANO https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/nicest-girl-of-orbassano/223794

[3] The Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), guerrilla organization that sought to establish an independent Tamil state (Eelam) in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, was established in 1976 by Velupillai Prabhakaran as the successor to an organization he had formed earlier in the 1970s. It was responsible for the assassination. Mr. Prabhakaran was killed in 2009 ending a several decades of Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tamil-Tigers

[4] Venkata Narasimha Rao Pamulaparti (PV): †Prime minister who brought India's economy back from the brink of meltdown: PV Narasimha Rao, as he was always known, became the first non-member of the Gandhi dynasty to last a full five-year term as prime minister. Moreover, he led India into a new age of economic reform, laying the groundwork for a decade or more of growth and inward investment. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/24/obituaries/pv-narasimha-rao-indian-premier-dies-at-83.html

[5] From a small town in Tuscany to leader of 1bn Indians: Gandhi dynasty rises again

[6] Garibi Hatao borrowed from ††††LBJís War on Poverty; War on Poverty UNITED STATES HISTORY; State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson, 8 January 1964 †https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3AuStymweQ; †The War on Poverty: Definition, Programs & Statistics

From 1970-1978, inspired at least in part by the US War on Poverty, the British government funded 12 Community Development Projects (CDP) in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in England, Scotland and Wales. War on Poverty in Britain: Documents from the Community Development Projects; Prescott declares 'war on poverty' (2000) Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has declared "war on poverty" to revive England's most deprived areas.

[7] From a small town in Tuscany to leader of 1bn Indians: Gandhi dynasty rises again

[8] Human and ecological well-being is interconnected by the nature of the planetís abiotic and biotic components, which are intimately intertwined and systemic. Sustainability is a systemic means of addressing these complex interconnections and interdependencies, especially in issues that appear to be separate like biodiversity conservation and social inequality. Basics of Sustainable Development

Human behavior remains utterly inappropriate for dealing with the potentially lethal fallout from a combination of increasingly rapid technological evolution matched with very slow ethical-social evolution. The human ability to do has vastly outstripped the ability to understand. As a result, civilization is faced with a perfect storm of problems driven by overpopulation, overconsumption by the rich, the use of environmentally malign technologies, and gross inequalities. They include loss of the biodiversity that runs human life support systems, climate disruption, global toxification, alteration of critical biogeochemical cycles, increasing probability of vast epidemics, and the specter of a civilization-destroying nuclear war. These biophysical problems are interacting tightly with human governance systems, institutions, and civil societies that are now inadequate to deal with them. Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act

Social Unrest

[9] Narendra Damodardas Modi