Her life and leadership is a tribute to the resilience of women, says Bhupesh Baghel

Few world leaders have risen from the kind of trial and tribulations that she has faced. Fewer have carved out a niche in countries other than their birth, points out the Chhattisgarh chief minister.

Her life and leadership is a tribute to the resilience of women, says Bhupesh Baghel

Bhupesh Bhaghel

The year 2021 marks the 75th year of our independence and in a remarkable coincidence Sonia Gandhi’s 75th birthday. She remains the longest serving President of the Indian National Congress and has admirably led the party through arguably far more difficult times than many of her illustrious predecessors.

I started my public life as a Congress man during the presidentship of Shri Rajiv Gandhi and had seen her as she accompanied Rajiv Ji on his travel through this country.

Today, when I look back to 1998 when she answered the desperate pleas of millions of Congressmen like me and stepped out of her world of domestic tranquility into the tumultuous world of Indian polity, I am awestruck at the ease with which she donned her new mantle and to see the transformation into a consummate leader.

What made this transition possible? It is true that she spent 16 years under the tutelage of her doting mother-in-law, former Prime Minister and iron lady of India, Shrimati Indira Gandhi, but surely much more went into the transformation.

Her life and leadership is a tribute to the resilience of women, says Bhupesh Baghel

At the heart of her politics is the great continuum she discovered between family and political values. Such a continuum reflects what many great thinkers call an ability to live an unalienated life. The singularity of values which sustains all the different phases of life and the corresponding roles one has to play with it.

Come to think of it the great “Indian culture”, which is intensely contested today, is actually the embodiment of this singularity within the spatio-temporal realities of the nation and family remains its single most important custodian. Rather than the state, religion, academia or market, it is the family which is the institutional custodian of it. And the fulcrum of this institution is the lady of the house. She shows how one’s identity and self-image develop the expansive accommodating qualities that it includes the entire family within it. She holds it together by her immense ability for self-negation or renunciation.

The Congress family had started withering away in the absence of a caring leader at the helm. As soon as she joined, she brought back many loyal Congressmen who had left the party, and she expanded its nature into a large joint family called the UPA. We Congressmen learnt about coalition politics and ran the most successful coalition in Indian politics. A coalition which has held on against voter apathy and dwindling political fortunes of many of its constituents. There can be no greater testimony of her leadership than this.

This coalition, nurtured on the values of the great Indian family, ushered in a new era of people-centric governance, and passed historic legislations of right based entitlements.

She renounced the Prime Minister’s post thrice (1991,2004,2009), which also gave this coalition the moral stature to carry out these bold socio-political reforms. She led by example when she resigned her parliamentary seat over the ‘office of profit’ controversy, for public life called for unquestionable probity.

In a family, the head of the family sees to it that irrespective of rectitude, no issue is allowed to polarize the family. In 2004, after the general elections results the narrow-minded BJP, especially some leaders like Sushma Swaraj, tried to make her foreign birth an issue. Shrimati Gandhi rose to the occasion and helped strengthen the social fabric of the country and gave us the ‘philosopher king’ of our era in Dr Manmohan Singh.

The government led by Dr Singh has to its record the fastest reduction in poverty in human history when it lifted more than 14 crore people out of the poverty line, and trebled India’s GDP from 700 billion dollars to 2 trillion dollars in its ten years.

Nine million jobs were created each year and farmers saw the highest rise in support prices for their produce along with the biggest farm loan waiver ever. Bharat Nirman saw unprecedented growth of rural infrastructure, and created a template for the current PM to rename. The country compared itself with China for economic parameters and with Europe for practice of democratic norms.

Her loss in her personal life, losing both her mother-in-law and her husband in tragic circumstances, has no parallel in the lives of world leaders. But the way she coped with the crises and emerged stronger is a remarkable story of her own resilience and steadfastness of women. More so, the Indian women.

Her children have imbibed her values and both Rahul ji and Priyanka ji stand firm against the divisive forces, for they know the true sense of the ‘Indian culture’.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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