Anand K Sahay

Perhaps this can happen only in India, the presence of the Hindu-supremacists in the shape of the RSS-BJP notwithstanding. The way it’s all turned out, India will have a Muslim president and a Sikh prime minister. An Italian Roman Catholic woman who became an Indian citizen only some 20 years ago will be looking on benignly after relinquishing the right to be prime minister. Nevertheless, her address will be the country’s crucial power centre. The interesting thing is majority Hindus nurse no sense of grouse. Truly, this may be said to be a tribute to democracy.

A society in which illiteracy and poverty have not wholly relaxed their grip was not swayed by ‘Hindutva’ appeals made in the name of a narrow, religion-based, nationalism. To understand the true import of this, one only has to remember that even in a country as individualistic as the US it is hard even for a Roman Catholic, leave alone those of non-Christian faiths, to become president. Kennedy was the exception. While ordinary folk have reaffirmed their allegiance to the idea of pluralism, government-making in a coalition framework is certain to throw up numerous challenges. Sonia’s repudiation of the highest office in the land should serve to enthuse and instruct those who will soon be operating the government. But it is unrealistic to expect inter-party as well as intra-party rivalries to be eliminated.

By choosing not to be prime minister when it was being thrust upon her, Sonia has cut at the roots of the “dynasty” argument as concerns the Congress party. It is also appropriate to note that by turning down prime ministership, Sonia has not made it any easier for her son, Rahul, to occupy that position some day. If that were to happen, he will have to earn it just like his mother had to, though she was to decline it. In real life, there is no such thing, and politics is known to take surprising turns.

At any rate, Singh is known to be imbued with a high sense of principle and is not expected to do the wrong thing knowingly, or to flinch from performing his constitutional obligations. Besides, no Indian prime minister has been a rubber stamp, even if they appeared to be stop-gap, as in the UF era. Sonia has been around long enough to understand this. She has seen loyalists and friends melt away when the going got hard on account of political adversity. She should certainly know that a quid pro quo of a certain order is simply out of the question in public life.

Her far-reaching decision has certainly put paid to the immediate vile plans of the RSS/BJP so that the UPA’s innings is made to start on the unpleasant note of possibly having to battle organised hoodlums on the streets. But the Congress leader will need to recognise the depths of disappointment of many who had voted for her party because she led its election campaign. She will need to address this issue when she focuses on reviving her party organisation in the states. In India regimes have never changed in a ‘normal’ election, i.e.. one not driven by the emotion quotient.

The remarkable thing about General Election 2004 is the electoral disgracing of an entrenched party and its top leaders when times were perfectly ordinary. Therefore, the Sonia Congress and the Manmohan government will need to be particularly solicitous of the popular mood and expectations. Fundamentally, this calls for balancing the interests of rapid economic growth and social justice, and the ending of divisive politics promoted by caucuses that were integral elements of the previous ruling combine. Sahay, a journalist, writes for THT from New Delhi