The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia’s logic: country first
She had only one reason: avoid civil strife

New Delhi, May 18: Yesterday, Sonia Gandhi had prepared a letter of regret. Today, she flashed another and held out a threat — if her renunciation is not accepted, she would resign as party president.

An extraordinary scene unfolded at 10 Janpath at 1 pm. As a “loyal” AICC general secretary tried to reason, tears falling incessantly, Sonia turned away her face, saying if they try to dissuade her, she would quit as the AICC chief.

The crestfallen Congressman told The Telegraph later: “We thought her to be powerful. But today we realise that she was strong, too. Today I felt that she was also an ordinary human being of flesh and blood.”

Many party leaders had feared all along that a drastic measure was lurking behind Sonia’s determination as she defied single-handed one of the biggest electoral odds in recent times.

She hated the idea of being challenged by a section of her countrymen, however minuscule a minority, who was uncomfortable over the prospect of her becoming Prime Minister of India.

Sonia said she had no problems taking on those like Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharti, but she had “no strength” to be a “cause” of a likely civil strife.

Congress leaders said in retrospect that they and the allies made a “blunder” in trying to assure that those raking up her foreign origin would be given a befitting answer.

“She dreaded such a scenario — the prospect of Congress workers battling Sangh activists. She was horrified to visualise that some day, somebody, driven by xenophobia, would try to set himself/herself on fire. She was convinced that the office of Prime Minister was not worth that,” a party MP from Maharashtra said.

She said that in her “modest” views, the country needed drinking water, schools, basic health services, small-scale industries, social security and not a debate revolving around her place of birth.

She said her association with the Nehru-Gandhi family had taught her an unforgettable principle — country first.

Sonia was reluctant from day one. Yet, political exigencies did not permit her to opt out of the race until everything had seemingly fallen in place. While stepping off the power podium, Sonia took utmost care to ensure a smooth succession.

Those who know Sonia well said they are least surprised by her action. Circumstances, they said, have trained Sonia in such a way that she is capable of taking tough decisions with ease.

There are several pointers in that direction. She had hated the idea of Rajiv Gandhi joining politics but conceded, realising that he had to fulfil his sense of duty towards mother Indira Gandhi.

In 1984, she let him become Prime Minister, much against her wishes because she felt Rajiv Gandhi had a duty to perform. In 1991, she declined to lead the party as she felt she was not cut out for politics. Seven years later, she was drawn into it due to a host of factors such as likely disintegration of the party.

Today, she answered her conscience when she asked herself if the office of Prime Minister was worth alienating a section of her countrymen.

She, too, was overwhelmed by emotion and avoided meeting allies and party MPs. The decision to opt out was communicated to allies through Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Ahmad Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and others.

Sources close to Sonia said other than a desire to avoid civil strife, the AICC chief was not driven by any other motive.

“We know the media will say 1001 things that security concerns were there, that she was unsure of facing the Lok Sabha, that she had a nagging doubt over her ability to lead the nation.

“But let me assure you, there was nothing of the sorts. She has learnt to live in a stringent security environment, she led the Congress as leader of Opposition for five years and is well versed with all national and international issues.

“She had just one view while vetoing herself. She could not bring herself to cause a sense of hurt to a minute section of society which had a jaundiced view about her,” one of the sources said.

Apart from her children Rahul and Priyanka, Sonia consulted two other trusted but apolitical friends who agreed with her decision.

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