Sonia’s Living Politics Born under one Law to another Bound
Opinion is sharply divided about Sonia Gandhi’s living politics, the pendulum swinging from one extreme position to another. But I have always viewed Sonia Gandhi as an artist and statesperson, with benevolent and compassionate nature and having dard (the expression used by Rajivji) for the down-troddens and impoverished people, specifically dalits and women. This perception flows from the aam adami and the intelligentsia of India International Centre for whom the politics is a music of life. It also flows from my several interactions with her, spanning from 1992 till to date and her own recordings and presentations at various conferences, symposia and rallies.
No wonder, after her renunciation of the office of Prime Minister, the media flashed the message with bold images and captivating metaphors comparing her with Mahatma Gandhi and describing her as Saint Sonia. What Rahul Gandhi said about Sonia Gandhi always rings in my ears that my mother is not a Gandhi by blood… But yesterday she became one… I feel proud of her for her act of renunciation of power and the wisdom flowing from her inner voice. Say, for example in Antic Hay Alous Huxley writes that “I have premonition that one of these days I may become a saint. An unsuccessful, flickering sort of saint like a candle burning to go out”.
Here is an insight from Shakespeare that sharply and coherently brings out Sonia Gandhi’s multi-faceted, multi-layered and multi-dimensional personality:
“And what a piece of work is a man!
How noble in reason!
How infinite in faculties.
In action, how like an angel!
In apprehension, how like a God!”
Sonia Gandhi was invited by Ruud Lubhers to deliver the 14th Nexus Lecture in Belgium. The Nexus Institute which was founded by Mr Riemann and Mrs Walgreen has emerged as one of the prestigious European Creative Centre for the exchange of thoughts and ideas within short span of its existence. The outstanding minds of the East and the West including Nobel Laureates have been participating in the creative activities of the Nexus Institute to sharpen an awareness about the alternative models of development in an independent yet interconnected and interdependent world that is transiting to a global society. Sonia Gandhi gave a highly perceptive and fascinating lecture on the theme of the ‘Living Politics: What India has Taught Me?’. In a dramatic beginning, she highlighted characteristics of the Indian people, who are loquacious and argumentative.
While quoting from the scholarly publication Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen, who too had delivered the Nexus Lecture Sonia Gandhi articulated that “what grieves and frustrates an Indian most about the prospect of dying is that he will no longer be able to argue back! Not surprisingly therefore, public life in India’s characterised by vigorous debate and vehement contention”. The cacophony of politics is the very music of the Indian democracy. Thomas Mann once wrote that “in our time the destiny of man presents its meaning in political terms”. We find this to be increasingly true because politics impinges upon almost every aspect of human life and is no longer merely concerned with the governmental structure. While addressing the youth, Rahul Gandhi has said recently that politics is in your shirt and in your pant. Sonia confesses that she has a long way to go before “becoming the proverbial argumentative Indian”.
While focusing upon the triggering impact of the Nexus Institute in the intellectual life, Sonia articulates that the outstanding feature of the last quarter of the twentieth century is the end of cold war and perhaps the collapse of Cartesian-Newtonian-Marxist paradigm of reality. It would be true to say that at this crucial crossroads mankind is groping for a new model, a new philosophy, a new paradigm and a new consciousness to replace the old. It is not coincidence that this is happening at a juncture when mankind is in supreme peril, not from another species, not from outer space but from itself. From deep within the human psyche there has developed a terrible power that threatens not only our generations but countless generations yet unborn, not only our own race buy all life on this planet.
It is against this backdrop that Sonia in her persuasive voice visualises the unique role of the Nexus Institute in generating the intellectual climate for meeting the challenges of the 21st Century and building a new world order. Writing a biography or even a brief write-up on Sonia in the media is, however, an awkward position because she is in a Via. She has herself confessed that she is not a proverbial politician but she is in a via and, therefore the contemporary judgements must be more in the nature of reviews than criticism.
No wonder, we cannot overlook her own attitude towards this kind of work, her depreciation of aspirants to write on her and that chills the enthusiasm of journalists and writers. She is often amazed that she should be treated as a classical politician of some earlier centuries; simultaneously she is amused and depressed. It trickles her self-esteem and at the same time even punctures it. Sometime she is filled with the outburst of laughter and like Indira Gandhi, she has learnt the technique of laughing at herself. Yet she is at the highest point of contemporary consciousness because of her significant contributions at the multiple levels. There can be little doubt that she has touched the modern scene at more points than most other politicians of the day. To read her life and work is like reading the book of self, the self in-search of identity and unity.
All the same it seemed to me worthwhile to draw the graph of Sonia’s evolution or orientation. I have allowed Sonia to speak for herself, even when, as often, she speaks with many voices. My main task has been to arrange and collate the material from his different letters published in the The Congress Sandesh and her presentations at various public platforms so far as they reinforce the point-of-view. It has been mainly an attempt to interpret Sonia by Sonia. While evaluating her life and work, Sonia articulates that her life history flows from the works of two outstanding artists, who were indeed the trailblazers of the arts and widely regarded as the greatest painters. They made an important contributions to the foundation of modern art. She writes that “like Rambrandt’s, it is a story of light and darkness, of mystery and the hidden hand of Destiny. Like Van Gogh’s it is also a story of inner struggle and torment, a story of how the experience of loss can impart a deeper meaning to life”.
Needless to mention, Sonia went through traumatic and agonising experiences after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in Sriperumbudar in Tamil Nadu. It was indeed a threatening challenge and she could have been overwhelmed by the crisis but at the same time she could transform the crisis into an opportunity and make a quantum jump by generating a creative force. She had a limited option: Brave New World or Wasteland, truth or abyss. Describing her story, she adds that though she was born in Europe but was claimed by another continent more diverse and ancient with enriched civilization power. Her discovery of India happened differently “through the encounter with a remarkable human being”. She has been guided in her journey by three great teachers, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Their courage, complete devotion to India has given her the strength to carry forward their luminous legacy after their martyrdom.
Perhaps she has read and re-read Jawaharlal Nehru’s book The Discovery of India where he has given a romanticised picture of India of the imagination with its varied moods of light, following darkness, of death and resurrection that captured the mind of sensitive souls and kept people spell bound. The book brings out sharply and coherently the salient features of India’s composite culture, reflects upon the divisive forces of communalism, casteist and regionalist configuration and is rounded off with the vivid, powerful and arresting description of India that matters. It is a dialogue with mind, indeed a questioning mind, that looks at India’s inheritance, glorious past with literary charms, analyses the causes of decadence and bleak present and looks forward to a new India bubbling with life and vitality.
Sonia has been elected as the President of the Congress party for the fourth-consecutive term on account of her meritorious services and not merely because of her luminous legacy and inheritance. She has emerged as the undisputed and unchallenged leader by her hard and sustained work, tirelessly travelling around the country, and coherently articulating the Congress ideology and standing up to whatever criticism the opposition leader could throw at her. It is quite amazing how with each election she has grown in stature, and is now ensconced in her own as the leading political figure in the country. She is beginning to resemble Indira Gandhi both in her functional style and articulation. Belonging to the legendary family of Pandit Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia has gradually and surely developed a world view of humanity in general and Indian society in particular. Her perception of India extends beyond a geographical landscape to a kingdom of values which a Buddha, a Nanak, a Vivekananda, a Gandhi was able to actualise. It was in 1992 that she brought out an illustrated publication on Rajiv, indeed an extremely fascinating and moving. I sent her my comments and sought an appointment through her Secretary Mr V George whom I knew intimately. I presented her my latest book The Transition to a Global Society (felicitation volume of Dr Karan Singh), which was released by Rajiv Gandhi in the Teen Murti Auditorium on March 9, 1991. She took perceptive interest in the publication and our discussion revolved around Rajiv Gandhi’s agenda of non-violent and denuclearised world-order. After that I was continuously in touch with her and every time she reflected perceptive interest in my conversation on India after Rajiv Gandhi. She was a patient listener and I found her calm, composed, keeping the mood of serenity and transquality.
Sonia was greatly influenced by Indira Gandhi and her political socialisation took place at the Prime Minister’s residence. Though Sonia was not an active participant in the political drama but whatever was happening at home which was pervaded by the political process that either explicitly or implicitly influenced the consciousness of Sonia. She was able to imbibe in her personality Indira Gandhi’s strong will, determination and steel like qualities in facing the challenges with firmness and foresight. Her philosophy was “to strive, to seek and not to yield”.
Indira Gandhi, Sonia’s mother-in-law was a strong and formidable personality. She was a natural leader and commanded great respect and authority. She had come a long way from the agonised young woman she had been “but at the same time she was a sensitive, intuitive person with a love for the arts and for the conservation of nature, a sense of humour and the ability to laugh at herself”. Despite her crushing schedule and preoccupation with the affairs of the State, she never failed to make time for personal concerns a grand child’s birthday, the illness of a friend or a relative, the problems of a staff member. Although rooted in the traditional moorings but her outlook was completely modern. She welcomed the decision of Rajiv to marry a girl from distant land. Sonia was also socialised in a traditional family environment and had firmly resolved to accept Rajiv’s mother as her own mother. Indira Gandhi developed great likings for Sonia and opened “her heart, her family and her culture” to her and treated her like the daughter that she never had. She shared her experiences about her personal life, her loneliness as a child with her mother ailing and her father imprisoned, of her involvement from her childhood in the Freedom Movement, of the values that took shape in those formative years. Sonia watched her dealing with crises and triumphs. She was at home while interacting with the common man and with heads of state, with allies and with opponents; she faced adulation and acclaim as well as criticism, slander, rejection and imprisonment. But the two events, which transformed Indira Gandhi’s personality made a profound impact on Sonia’s life. The Bangladesh crisis and the way she was able to make India self-reliant in the food sector by bringing about Green revolution in the country. Indira Gandhi displayed her dynamism and pragmatic approach in tackling Bangladesh crisis, which finally culminated in India’s unprecedented victory in Indo-Pakistan war in 1971 and the emergence of Bangladesh as Sovereign Democratic Republic. Space and time do not permit me to go in-depth about these two crucial issues but what I need to point out that Sonia Gandhi through her position as Chairperson of UPA and National Advisory Council has been able to achieve major breakthrough in empowering the aam adami, particularly dalits, women and marginalised segment of the population with economic and educational inputs. Sonia Gandhi has miles to go and promises to keep for shaping the destiny of the nation from refreshingly positive perspectives with a focus on the political morality.
By Prof. Kishore Gandhi