Sonia Gandhi among a long line of illustrious Indians with foreign origin : Bhupinder Singh Hooda

She is not the only Indian of foreign origin to have served this country selflessly, nor the only woman or the only Congress President

Left to Right: Nellie Sengupta, Sister Nivedita, Annie Besant and Mira Ben
Left to Right: Nellie Sengupta, Sister Nivedita, Annie Besant and Mira Ben

Bhupinder Singh Hooda

In a long and illustrious line of great Indian women of foreign origin, Sonia Gandhi would rank among the likes of Sister Nivedita, Mira Ben, Annie Besant and Nellie Sengupta, who selflessly served people of this country. The last named was also a Congress President. They have all carved a niche in our history. They all embraced Indian culture and values and contributed enormously to public life.

Mrs Sonia Gandhi after her marriage in 1968 with Rajiv Gandhi, son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, scrupulously stayed away from politics and led a private life. Following a family tragedy, when Sanjay Gandhi was killed in a mishap, a reluctant Rajiv Gandhi had to join politics to assist his mother. After four years, the brutal assassination of Smt.Indira Gandhi that shocked and shook the nation, Rajiv Gandhi took charge of the destiny of this country as a Prime Minister and was endorsed by a massive mandate in less than two months. Smt.Sonia Gandhi stood by her husband like a rock in those traumatic times and accompanied him on his tours throughout the country and abroad. This is how she got initiated into the nitty-gritty of politics.

An even bigger tragedy fell upon her in 1991 when her husband Rajiv Gandhi was cruelly assassinated as part of a deep conspiracy against the country. She braved the critical time with dignity and determination. Congressmen saw her as the natural heir. She was offered the party leadership but she rejected the offer. Instead, she withdrew from public life. Safety and studies of her children were paramount.

Sonia Gandhi among a long line of illustrious Indians with foreign origin : Bhupinder Singh Hooda

But, on the insistence of the people of Amethi, Smt Sonia Gandhi reached the constituency of her husband in 1993. Only a few MPs including Capt. Satish Sharma, Suresh Pachauri and I accompanied her on that visit. She later travelled throughout the country on behalf of a trust/organisation devoted to Indian life.

Smt Sonia Gandhi formally joined Indian National Congress in 1997 in the Congress plenary session at Calcutta. With overwhelming support of Congressmen throughout the country she became President of the Indian National Congress in 1998. She has the distinction of remaining Congress President for nineteen years at a stretch up to 2017. She is now the interim President of Congress since 2019.

Perhaps no leader of India since independence has been subjected to such intense scrutiny; few leaders have been targeted so viciously and maligned as much by political rivals through a hate campaign as Smt. Sonia Gandhi. She faced wild and baseless allegations and sustained attempts at character assassination. She confronted her opponents with dignified silence. She maintained the highest tradition of political discourse and the social ethos of this country. She did not hit out at her opponents but smiled at them with compassion as she knew that they were ignorant. She always showed grace and equanimity in dealing with colleagues and opponents as well. This is her way of conquering the people and conquer she did!

During the late ’90s when Congress was faltering, Smt Sonia Gandhi provided a coherent vision, dynamic vigour and served as a ‘glue’ to the party. Under her visionary leadership, the Congress party became a united voice of the poor and voiceless in the face of the media blitzkrieg of ‘India shining’. She led the Congress party to win the election in 2004 and formed the government after 1991.

Sonia Gandhi as the architect of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) with centre-left parties helped formulate the common minimum programme. There was vitriolic propaganda against her becoming the Prime Minister being of foreign origin. In a dexterous political move, she surprised the nation by renouncing the post of Prime Minister and proposed the name of Dr Manmohan Singh, an eminent economist to pull the country out of the quagmire of economic crisis. This move silenced and shamed her opponents and saved the country from disharmony and distraction. By doing so, she may have lost the crown but won the hearts of the people.

However, she became the chairman of UPA and to implement and monitor its common minimum programme the National Advisory Council with various subject experts was constituted and she was elected to head it. It was on her initiative and inspiration that the UPA could enact several historical legislations such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA), Right to Education, Right to Information, Right to Food Security and Nutrition etc. which changed the social and political milieu of the country forever.

She has never lost an election since 1999 because she enjoys confidence and credibility among the people. Her simplicity, sagacity, sincerity and straightforwardness have won the trust of millions of Congressmen and common people in the country.

I have been particularly fortunate to have the blessings and guidance of Smt Sonia Gandhi throughout my political career. I have enjoyed her full trust and unstinted support and I have always endeavoured to come up to her expectations. Millions of the congressmen in the country like me have complete faith and hope in her leadership. May she be healthy and happy for many more years to come!

(The writer is a former CM of Haryana and leader of the opposition in Haryana Legislative Assembly)

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

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