Sonia Gandhi is a clean freak. At a book release many years ago, while most of them hurriedly tore the wrapping paper off the book and carelessly threw it away, Sonia picked up hers and folded it neatly, keeping it in her purse to throw away later. Leaving the reins of the Congress party to Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress can also clean up a bit.
The joy and relief on Sonia Gandhi’s face was evident as she accompanied Kharge to what was once her office at Congress headquarters. She now plans to take a full break and retreat to the mountains, possibly in the cottage built by her daughter Priyanka Vadra near Shimla.
However, her move is something she left to chance as the last time she planned to do so, she was forced to take charge again when her son Rahul Gandhi suddenly decided to step down as president of Congress.
Fate has played an important role in the life of Sonia Gandhi. It was fate that forced her to give up her cozy life as a housewife who loved to make ‘gajar ka halwa’ and tend her garden. The murder of her husband Rajiv Gandhi and the crisis in Congress forced Sonia Gandhi to listen to her “inner voice” and get involved in active politics.
“I couldn’t watch the party set up by my mother-in-law and husband fall apart,” Sonia Gandhi explained. Starting out as a clumsy, shy politician who was rejected by some seniors like Sharad Pawar and PA Sangma for being a foreigner, Sonia Gandhi fell back on her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi’s rulebook to master the ropes of politics.
Even her critics inside and outside the party admitted that she overcame her Hindi hurdle and “foreign origin” issue by ensuring she returned Congress to power in 2004, defeating the formidable Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Those who had despised her rushed in to become part of the alliance she formed – the UPA. The NCP, which was formed by Pawar after he left Congress because of Sonia Gandhi’s ‘origin’, has remained its ally to this day. Even the DMK, which hated Sonia Gandhi for failing to do justice to her husband’s killers, remains a staunch ally of Congress.
It was once again fate – and her understanding of real politics – that forced her not to become prime minister in 2004. She knew the NCP and others may have forgiven her foreign origins, but her Italian roots would always be the punching bag of choice, especially on the issue of national security. Power without responsibility suited Sonia Gandhi. It also catapulted her to the list of the 10 most powerful women in the world according to Forbes and Newsweek.
The role of fate reigned supreme again when she relinquished leadership of the party, which was crumbling under the Modi juggernaut. However, as the party slowly fell apart when son Rahul Gandhi took charge, Sonia Gandhi was forced to cut her retirement plans.
The happy photos of Sonia Gandhi cycling in a resort in Goa were overshadowed by the crisis that hit Congress and she had to step in to make sure everything could be saved.
However, as she suffered from Covid-19 twice and her health became still fragile, Sonia Gandhi’s children realized that she should be given the choice to retire.
The interim president called for free and open elections. Despite public perception of Shashi Tharoor’s polling process and camp in which they openly expressed their disappointment, Sonia Gandhi happily retired. She leaves behind a party that is weak and needs a lot of work. But her worst critics, even in the BJP, admit that she has proven herself as a politician. She made sure that her style of listening to everyone and making compromises will most likely be followed by her successor Kharge.
Sonia Gandhi has, for a change, left the mess for someone else to clean up. But now she’s finally taking control of her own destiny.
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