Sonia Gandhi As PM

Written by Subhash Agrawal | Updated: Nov 21 2002, 05:30am hrs
A series of electoral wins, especially in Jammu & Kashmir, along with the governments visible economic underperformance and the Bharatiya Janata Partys (BJPs) increasing identity crisis, have not only energised the Congress but also appear to have beatified Sonia Gandhi. The Mount Abu conclave, with its slick media coverage, was in many ways a celebration party for a lady dismissed till recently as a political debutante and a baggage-laden outsider. It is undeniable that Sonia Gandhi has gained immeasurably in stature in the last year. The question being posed these days by foreign media and think tanks is whether she will become Prime Minister after two years.

So will she Indian politics is churning anew everyday with confusing cross currents, vote banks and loyalties are becoming increasingly dynamic, and two years is an awfully long time. But even so, some trends are more evident. First, in recent elections, there has been no single theme but a combination of local, national and personality-based issues that influenced the final outcome.

Incumbency disadvantage is the only certainty: the ruling party has been voted out in 30 out of the last 36 elections at various levels. This is related to the rapid growth of media that has made us all more connected to politics and inclined towards quicker expectations.

Second, a big demographic shift is in making, and the centre of political gravity is now overwhelmingly rural, young and caste-based. In fact, caste politics have become so entrenched now that no national party can really expect to rule on its own. Third, most political experts have been wrong about the BJP which for some time has been going the Congress way, not the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) way. In fact, the BJP is being forced to become pan-Indian and centrist in character; except Kerala, all other major states have voted BJP candidates to Parliament.

Together, these mean a deficit of ideology and an eagerness to make a deal. It explains why Advani has muted his pro-Hindu line much to the incense of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, why Murli Manohar Joshi has supported the right of allies to protest against policies, and why Samata publicly supported the RSS on the membership controversy in Gujarat two years ago. Unexpected postures, to say the least. Under the surface and below the radar, many experiments are on to build new constituencies or test new friendships.

How do the Congress and Sonia Gandhi score within this broad context Congress has a better and larger pipeline of younger leaders than any other party, and perhaps Sonias most positive contribution is to allow regional leaders to grow and acquire status. The RSS remains an albatross around the BJPs neck, no matter how much the child wants to become independent of the parent. And for all their bravado about a new Third Front, almost all regional parties need to hitch their wagons to one of the two national parties, since their future relevance will depend upon centrally controlled subsidies, funds and sops. But for all these positive signs, the fact is that for the Congress to make a credible claim, its voteshare in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar has to climb back to at least 25 per cent. Which is just not happening. Sonia rose above the occasion during recent events in UP and put Mulayam in a corner, but she will need him sooner or later.

There is also this big cultural gap between Sonia Gandhi and the Mulayam Yadavs of the world, and she has failed in nurturing critical personal equations. And no matter how some opinion polls, national media and anti-BJP intellectuals dismiss her foreign origin as a non-issue, it does remain a potent question yet to be fully tested, especially in the macho world of north Indian villages. Third Front leaders are very cagey on whether they will support Sonia as PM, and are hardly wont to stay outside a government they prop up.

Furthermore, any alliance with regional parties only blurs the Congresss separate identity. So even if the BJP is routed in the next elections, a Congress under Sonia has limited post-poll maneuverability. The Congresss biggest problem is still the same: its very leader who has nurtured the party back to health.