19 May 2004
The Times of India
Sonia Soars In Renunciation
By Siddharth Varadarajan
New Delhi: Only in politics and the underworld can mortality be so swift and ruthless as to rob the deceased of the chance of appearing dignified in death. For better or worse, the NDA was slain by the electorate which opted for a Congress-led government knowing that it'd be led by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, but the BJP refused to cremate the corpse. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who wanted to go down in history as a statesman, inexplicably flinched from completing the obsequies. L K Advani was busy mourning. In the absence of the two grandees, Sushma Swaraj decided to preside over the last rites of the NDA government, threatening to trade the sindoor of the Idealised Hindu Woman for the severe, Brahminically-ordained raiment of widowhood — complete with shaved head — if Sonia, the foreign-born Indian widow, were to become prime minister of India.
But it is the `Italian bahu' who has triumphed, demonstrating not just better understanding of politics than Sushma and the men standing behind her but also of Hindu scripture and sanskaras.
Indians love and respect no one more than a renunciate. Sonia Gandhi is not exactly giving up all the fruits of her actions during the election campaign but in a country and society which has come to valorise power more than anything else — more than business, more than journalism, more than acting — letting go of the PM's chair will inevitably be seen as an act of unparalleled sacrifice.
The entire concluding chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is devoted to the importance of renunciation. It is on receiving this wisdom from Krishna that Arjuna is mentally
prepared to go into the Mahabharata war, eventually to emerge victorious. It is dangerous to make predictions in politics but Sonia's decision to renounce the throne will almost certainly ensure that her children will inherit it.
BJP, which fought and lost an essentially racist campaign and then thumbed its nose at Indian democracy by starting a xenophobic offensive against Sonia becoming PM even though she had the constitutional, political and moral mandate, will find it hard to recover from this coup de grace. Even the most hardened BJP sympathiser would have found it difficult not to marvel at Sonia Gandhi as she announced her decision, not to feel a tinge of shame and regret for the personal attacks their leadership mounted on her these past few months.
Sushma the Shrill, who stooped to tonsure, can proclaim victory from the rooftops and claim — to the adulation of the extremists who inhabit the political fringe in this country — that it was her resolute stand which saved India from the “ignominy'' of having a foreign-born PM.
The BJP took a gamble that Sonia would not understand the quality of renunciation and shot its bolt even before they had a chance to target her actual performance as PM. The Congress leader should now go one step further: she must ensure that the person who becomes Prime Minister in her place is able to function with all the dignity and respect that the office commands. A remote control chief minister may work at the state level, but the PM cannot be answerable to any extra-constitutional authority. Sonia Gandhi has given up the PM's chair. She must also decide to set aside the remote. TNN