National

Sonia Gandhi Fails to Campaign

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The decision of Congress President Sonia Gandhi of literally staying away from campaigning for the assembly elections is quite surprising. There may be some logic in her doing so because of her not keeping well. But if ill-health has restrained her from campaigning, it is only being talked about. There has apparently been no statement or release stating this. Rather, ahead of some scheduled campaigns, there have been reports of the probability of Sonia Gandhi addressing crowds. However, at the last minute, she has not participated in the same. She is believed to have stayed away because of illness. At least, this has been assumed to be the main reason for her not being able to make it. Till date, during ongoing assembly elections, she has not campaigned at all.

Considering that Congress leaders are not making much noise about Sonia’s health problems, it would be erroneous to assume that they are banking on seeking sympathy votes on this ground. Even if they tried doing so, this would most probably be a futile move. Certainly, it cannot be denied that Sonia has some health problems. But she has had this problem for quite some time and is known to have been even hospitalised several times for this. However, the lady has not refrained earlier from campaigning for her party during parliamentary as well as assembly elections. Rather, since assuming office as Congress President, she has been fairly actively involved in the job till now. Yes, age may be catching up with her. But considering the age of most politicians in the fray, she cannot be considered too old. While she is 70, Prime Minister Modi is 66. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is 84, which means that while in office he was more than 70.

It cannot be denied that Sonia Gandhi has only partially succeeded in reviving the political fortunes of Congress party. Her success is marked by the party heading the national government for two successive terms. However, the party could do this only by heading an alliance – United Progressive Alliance (UPA) – of which she was unanimously chosen as the chairperson. The Congress-led UPA was formed and came to power in 2004. In 2009 parliamentary elections, this alliance succeeded in securing a decisive victory with the Congress alone winning 206 seats. Sonia’s success is being viewed as partial as perhaps had the alliance not been formed, the Congress may not have succeeded in heading the national government from 2004 to 2014.

Ironically, despite Sonia Gandhi being given the stature of the most important Congress leader and also, at least formally, of UPA, it is difficult to state that she has fully succeeded in these capacities. Had she been a great success, the strength of Congress would not have been reduced today to less than 50 in Parliament. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the loss suffered by the Congress is also due to the rise in importance and number of regional parties. Sonia alone is not to be blamed for this political development. After all, India is a democratic nation and each individual has the right and freedom to entertain political aspirations. It may not be wrong to state that in this case, regional Congress leaders may also be held responsible for failing to put a strong fight against regional leaders.

Also, quite a few politicians chose to part ways with Congress when they felt that their own base in their respective states had assumed necessary strength to form their own parties. It was apparently just impossible for Sonia to prevent them from pursuing their respective political ambitions. Perhaps, though late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is viewed as a strong, iron lady, may have faced the same problem had she lived in the present period. To a degree, this implies that the Congress remained a strong party in earlier days not simply because of the strength of leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. During their era, the Congress did not face challenge from as many parties as is being faced by Sonia Gandhi.  

Nevertheless, these factors do not justify decision of Sonia Gandhi to abstain from campaigning in these assembly elections. It is possible that she has deliberately chosen to let Rahul and Priyanka manage the show. Also, she may not be too pleased with their decision to contest UP elections in an alliance with Samajwadi Party. Rather than comment on it openly, she decided not to campaign in not just UP but in all the states facing assembly elections now. Had she chosen to campaign only in other states, it would have hardly pleased the limited Congress supporters in UP. Not surprisingly, in a “personal” letter (Feb 22), addressed to voters in Rae Bareli and Amethi, she explained that she was held back from being among them due to “some reasons.” Without referring to the alliance with SP, she asked them to vote for Congress candidates. The letter has received good media coverage as an “emotional appeal.” But will it help Congress win votes?     

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