Sonia exit was as subdued as her entry was spirited.
New Delhi: Sonia Gandhi, who on Saturday handed over the reins of the Congress to her son, Rahul Gandhi, was once seen as an unlikely heir to the Gandhi political legacy, but crowned her innings by becoming the longest serving president of India’s grand old party. Her exit was as subdued as her entry was spirited.
“I am going to retire,” the 71-year-old member of Parliament told reporters yesterday, sending party leaders into a tizzy and hastening to explain that she was not quitting politics.
But Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law is known to spring surprises. If her successor was often described as the reluctant heir of the family, she was even more loath to take up a political role.
Legend has it that when Congress leaders pressed Rajiv Gandhi to occupy the Prime Minister’s chair after the assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi begged him not to, fearful about her family’s safety. Seven years later, when he was killed, she turned away when party leaders urged her to lead the Congress.
It was another seven years later, when the party was in tatters at the Centre and in power only in four states, that she agreed to pick up the reins of the party. She was persuaded to do so after senior leaders left the Congress and set up their own regional outfits.
When the Congress was in a shambles, Sonia Gandhi — described by sections of the media as the most powerful woman in India — steered it to victory in 2004, ousting the NDA.
That wasn't all. When it appeared that she would occupy the highest office in South Block, she told the surprised media that she had chosen Manmohan Singh as the prime minister of the United Progressive Alliance government.
On Saturday, party leaders look back at her presidency with pride, hailing unity and strength as the hallmarks of her record breaking 19-year tenure.