In the midst of forced celebrations over Sonia Gandhi'sdecade as Congress president and ?certificates? that her foreign origins no longer matter, some facts are too stark to be ignored.
The first is that Ms. Gandhi'sforeign origins are more relevant than ever as they are directly influencing the country'sforeign policy. Secondly, given the growing obduracy of missionaries in matters of conversion and the new political drive for SC-ST benefits for Christian converts, the matter of Ms. Gandhi'sreligious affiliation acquires a new dimension. This is reinforced by the calculated disappearance of her son, Rahul Gandhi, while on an official tour of Orissa, so as to interact with faith-based NGOs. Finally, Ms. Gandhi has passed her political peak and is leading the Congress to irretrievable decline; the failure of the Amethi MP to make the grade and the determined thrust of BSP leader Ms. Mayawati only underline this trend.
While the domestic impact of Ms. Gandhi'sinfluence in foreign policy has yet to be assessed, the distortions she has wrought on India'sforeign policy bear documenting. Most shocking is India'sdecision to vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency two years ago. An Indian government run by an Indian would have abstained, rather than annoy a friendly neighbour.
Ms. Gandhi has put her entire weight behind the Indo-US nuclear deal, which all nationalist security experts, scientists and bureaucrats know will be the death-knell of India'sindependent nuclear programme. There is no doubt that Washington will force New Delhi to buy most reactors from its obsolete industries in order to revive its dying economy; of course the deal impacted upon our relations with Teheran. Any other regime would have buckled under public pressure; only Ms. Gandhi'sdominance over the UPA and Congress keeps the deal alive.
Even worse is India'shandling of the Nepal crisis, where rent-a-crowd Comrades and foreign-funded NGOs were allowed to run amok, bring the illegitimate Maoists into the interim Parliament and dethrone the king. India abandoned the king because western missionaries have a major evangelical programme in the Himalayan kingdom. In recent times, King Gyanendra has told visiting Indian dignitaries that when the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Kathmandu with his wife when King Birendra was on the throne, Ms. Sonia Gandhi pounced on him and demanded the release of 90 foreign missionaries who had been arrested for conversion activities in the country.
Ms. Gandhi'scommitment to the evangelical agenda can be seen in the UPA decision to award Ms. Gladys Staines with the Padma Shri last year, when it is well known that her husband and two sons were murdered because of tribal resentment over their conversion activities in Orissa. More pertinently, Mr. Rahul Gandhi deliberately gave his security personnel and the Orissa government the slip in order to meet certain Christian NGOs secretly in Orissa. This is an abominable situation and the nation will ignore the religious affiliation of the Gandhi family only at its peril. Its bears stating that the principal lesson of Indian history is that the people suffer when the religion of the ruler is different from the faith of the populace.
Finally, the rise and decline of Ms. Gandhi deserves critical scrutiny. Contrary to persistent Congress projection, she did not spurn political office by refusing the job of Prime Minister after the death of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The truth is that the Congress was in minority and no political party would have supported her candidature at that time. It was Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao who had the ability to steer a minority government and Ms. Gandhi and her loyalists only made his life difficult when he tried to act independently. Still Mr. Rao kept up enough pressure on her to force Mr. Quattrochi to flee the country. Ms. Gandhi used the UPA to get her countryman released in Argentina and walk off with the Bofors kickbacks money!
Worse, she disgraced Mr. Narasimha Rao after the Congress defeat in 1996, and physically removed his successor Sitaram Kesri in 1998 in order to assume the party presidentship. Some writers have credited Ms. Gandhi for daring to take the party into a coalition government, but that has more to do with the exigencies of the situation and the fact that BJP had previously headed a coalition with success. Here again, despite her best efforts, Ms. Gandhi could not persuade President Abdul Kalam to swear her in as Prime Minister and had to hand over the job to Dr Manmohan Singh. Her bards can say what they like, everyone knows that the lady was all set to be Prime Minister just one day before meeting the President, and her tune changed only after her fateful encounter with him.
Ms. Gandhi has in recent times led the party to a string of defeats, including the unexpected one in Nagaland. She is now clearly on the backfoot, and even sycophants like HRD Minister Arjun Singh openly assert in party forums that Congress is in a mess in the critical state of Uttar Pradesh, despite the best efforts of Mr. Rahul Gandhi. Those who understand the language of politics know that the old warhorse is saying that the Amethi MP has failed to attract voters wherever he has gone, despite the party machinery putting everything into his road shows.
Meanwhile, India has failed to take a pro-active position on Tibet, no doubt because the American-UN hand is visible in the monk-led revolt, and Ms. Gandhi does not wish to upset the White House. All in all, there can be little doubt that behind the fake smiles and colourful bouquets, Congress realizes the Sonia Gandhi'sten years as Congress president are a curse in disguise. The party would do well to wind up the self-created dynasty and go back to creating leaders of the stature of Vallabhbhai Patel and Netaji Subhash Bose.