Albeit, we in India have the right to make a political choice, only at the age of 18 years, yet I can say with some certainty that my political consciousness developed even before that. I was just 13 years old when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA Government had enjoyed 13 months of power. Armed with some basic knowledge of school-taught Civics, I began to follow the subsequent developments. The intricacies and the complexities of a coalition government fascinated me greatly. Since the Civics books did not teach us the workings of a coalition Government, and I had no political background in the family, I squarely relied on the newspapers and editorials of that time to form an opinion. There was also a deep influence of my grandmother’s anecdotes about Allahabad and the National Movement and how her brothers used to conceal her in a veil and take her to attend Kamala Nehru’s meetings and processions, since, in those days, middle-class women from conservative families were not allowed to leave home.
In this context, did I witness, the rise of Sonia Gandhi- gradually, cautiously and a calibrated one. I was deeply fascinated by the simple fact that there is a woman who although did not belong to this country, by birth, adopted this country and the people as her own and who with all the grace and resilience was fighting all kinds of vicious attacks with absolute dignity. It is not that there were not tall leaders in that era- Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the tallest- but slowly and steadily it became to unravel before me that the policies and practices of the BJP were inconsistent with the culture and ethos which India represented.
The Gujarat riots of 2002 sealed my belief. It is only a coincidence that fate took me to Gujarat at that point in time, to study Architecture for 5 years, as the BJP’s communal and hate politics unleashed itself. My faith in the secular and liberal values became stronger and the only leader I looked up to was Sonia Gandhi- not because she represented that view, but because she practiced the innate spirit of ‘Satyagraha’- conceptualized by the Mahatma. With every cheap barb thrown at her by the BJP and its senior leaders (Vajpayee, Advani, Mahajan, Fernandeset all), she continued to display unconditional poise and gravity. Even some of her own didn’t spare her, yet she maintained complete calm. It was against this mounting barrage of deeply personal offensive attacks against her did Sonia Gandhi win her elections by huge margins.
The 2004 Elections was not only a victory for Congress and Sonia Gandhi, but also my own political beliefs. It is said and now I learn from the people around her that, not only did her vigorous campaign across the country paid off, but she was accepted by the masses with immense love and affection. When she returned from her electoral campaign, her campaign staff brought sacks filled with coins of the lowest denominations. Why? Because people in India, when they saw the bahu (daughter –in-law) of Indira Gandhi, wanted to give some ‘munh dikhai’ (a custom when the elders/ family sees and wishes the newly wed bride after marriage) How couldn’t they not greet and welcome the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi? The same Indira Gandhi, who is still revered and remembered by the poor and the masses in rural India; perhaps, she was the only leader after Bapu, who traversed so much across India in the remotest of areas, that they only remember her!
Since I had witnessed, how Vajpayee initially fumbled on the tight rope to manage diverse allies in a coalition government, the UPA-1 experiment in the initial years Sonia Gandhi becoming the UPA Chairperson and Dr Manmohan Singh becoming the Prime Minister and the so called ‘dual power centre’ theory helped me strengthen my beliefs further, in the political capabilities of the Congress President. Despite the Left and a set of unpredictable, demanding regional parties, Sonia Gandhi handled the UPA deftly.
Her biggest imprint and contribution to India’s polity would be her constant emphasis on Rights Based Legislations- Right to Information (RTI), Right to Education (RTE), National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), Forest Rights Act and Food Security Act were all enacted under the guidance of Sonia Gandhi. Even though her critics called the National Advisory Council (NAC) as ‘Super Cabinet’ – yet we carefully read the views of those who worked in the NAC when she spearheaded that tell that she always respected and listened to divergent views. As a senior member of NAC, Aruna Roy recalls “When the Prime Minister’s Office called, inviting me to join the NAC, I feared restrictions on the freedom of expression and dissent, my most jealously guarded privilege. My only condition before joining was to request full freedom to express my views, even those critical of the government or its policies. I was never constrained from expressing dissent, disagreement or discontent; either within the NAC or outside. Sonia Gandhi’s capacity to respect dissenting opinions with grace distinguishes her from others in similar positions.” Ushering the golden era of rights based legislations and the highest average growth period ever in modern India, team Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh wrote a new chapter in India’s public policy and development.
No wonder, UPA still holds the record of lifting the maximum number of people out of poverty, and the current PM, Narendra Modi is still inaugurating projects built by Congress-UPA, even after 3.5 years in governance.
Since it is a personal diary, it would be appropriate to call myself fortunate enough that I am witnessing a transition in the Congress party leadership and the subsequent history in making. People say that the generational shift towards Rahul Gandhi is due to political compulsions and has happened swiftly. I disagree. The transition has happened, since the last 4-5 years, and has happened slowly, gradually and step-by step. In these 4 years, I became an active part of the Congress system and had an insider’s view. There were newer challenges in for Rahul Gandhi like the advent of ‘New Media’ (Social/Digital)
Lately, the media was loaded with articles and analytical pieces about a ‘New& Improved’ Rahul Gandhi and his so called ‘Makeover’- especially his ‘Enhanced’ Social Media presence. This was already there. Although we accept that the Congress was late in the game, and BJP had the first mover advantage. But since 2013, Congress is continuously building on and improving itself in the digital space. The ground work was laid by volunteers and training sessions in states were carried as back as August 2013. Rahul Gandhi continuously used to interact with the Social Media team, back them- even though he formally took the plunge in April 2015 on Twitter, he continuously followed the medium and gave us his feedback. Most of them were laced with wit and humor, as we noticed recently and he always exhorted us not uses any foul language against our political opponents. <br.
Rahul Gandhi’s impression on the Indian polity can be gauged by a series of important interventions which might have not have made big news or given him political advantages. But these were extremely important policy milestones.
Be it his fervent intervention for the rights of Dongria Kondh tribals in Odisha’s Niyamgiri Mountainor his continuous struggle for the rights of farmers starting from Bhatta Parsaul leading to the passage of the Land Acquisition Act.
The tearing of the ordinance may have been branded by some as an act of rebellion against his own party’s government, yet it was due to him that Indian politics became cleaner and convicted politicians were debarred to fight elections for a definite period. This was the first step in decades that India took in terms of Electoral Reforms.
Senior Supreme Court Justice J Chelameshwar praised Rahul Gandhi at a judge-felicitation ceremony, by giving him credit for being the saviour of the SC judgment disqualifying convicted politicians. His praise was in these words:
“A great man has intervened at the last minute and ensured the scrapping of the ordinance and it was because of that great man’s endorsement of the correctness of the SC judgement, it could be saved. That great man had done immense service to the nation through his timely intervention.”
This talks volumes about Rahul Gandhi’s politics.
The Congress party might have faced its worst-ever defeat in 2014, but Rahul Gandhi stood as a rock behind it in such tough times. He ensured that the Modi Government is cornered on a plethora of issues like crony capitalism, black money, corruption, agrarian distress, shady defence deals and much more.
His ‘Suit Boot Ki Sarkar’ jibe at the Prime Minister, stuck heavily with Modi’s flamboyant image, so much so that Modi was forced to recalibrate his ‘love’ for the poor.
His intent, intentions, and integrity remained to the highest standards despite a vicious campaign launched against him by the BJP in the Gujarat elections. Whatever the results may be, he has forced the Congress rank and file give a tenacious and united fight to Modi in the latter’s own backyard.
The era of Congress President, Rahul Gandhi has just begun.