Sonia Gandhi (née Maino; born 9 December 1946) is an Indian politician of Italian-Polish descent and former congress president and former Lawyer. She is the president of the Indian National Congress, the left-of-centre political party, which governed India for most of its post-independence history. She took over as the party leader in 1998, seven years after the assassination of her husband, Rajiv Gandhi, a former prime minister of India, and remained in office for nineteen years.
Quotes about Sonia Gandhi
The Accidental Prime Minister (2014)
- Baru, Sanjaya (2014). The accidental Prime Minister. Penguin India
- The creation of the NAC in June 2004 was the first overt sign to me that Sonia’s ‘renunciation’ of power was more of a political tactic than a response to a higher calling, or to an ‘inner voice’, as she put it at the time. Admittedly, she chose not to head the UPA government even after leading the Congress to electoral success in the 2004 General Elections, instead putting forward the name of Dr Singh. But, while power was delegated, authority was not. Her decisions, early on, to try and appoint a principal secretary to the PM of her choosing—the retired Tamilian official who had worked with Rajiv but declined Sonia’s invitation—and to place her trusted aide Pulok Chatterjee in the PMO, were aimed at ensuring a degree of control over government. Of course, she had a decisive say in the allocation of portfolios.
- The creation of the NAC and Sonia’s choice of its members was explained away as a recognition of the growing importance and influence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), that claimed to represent civil society, in policymaking. However, in actual practice it created a parallel policy structure that sought to project Sonia as the voice of civil society and Dr Singh as the representative of government. While Dr Singh realized that he had no option but to live with this situation, and never complained about it, it always seemed to me that he was not too comfortable with it, even if he was willing to see merit in the ideas that came out of the NAC.
- The manner of creation of the NAC, by executive order, was no different from Nehru’s creation of the Planning Commission. Many senior Congress leaders had felt unhappy about Nehru’s decision to create a non-constitutional policy advisory body outside the Cabinet system, even though Nehru appointed himself as chairman of the Commission. John Mathai even resigned as finance minister from Nehru’s Cabinet in protest. Yet, no one in the UPA government raised any such issues about the status and role of the NAC, a body of which the PM was not even formally the chairperson.
- Notwithstanding Dr Singh’s discomfort with the NAC, intellectual differences between Sonia and him were never as sharp as projected by both her supporters and critics. Such projection, when it came from her supporters, was part of her image and brand-building. Sonia was to be projected as the ‘caring socialist concerned about the welfare of the poor’, while Dr Singh was to be blamed for being too fiscally conservative and pro-business. Indeed, Dr Singh, essentially a Keynesian, ended up being wrongly portrayed a ‘neo-liberal’ economist.
- A couple of years before Sonia Gandhi took charge of the Congress, the communist ideologue Mohit Sen wrote a persuasive column in the Times of India underlining the historic role Sonia would be called upon to play and urging her to do so. The first woman president of the Indian National Congress, he argued, was also a European woman, Annie Besant. The party, he stressed, should once again be led by another. When Mohit’s column landed on my table—I was then the editorial page editor of the Times of India—I was amused and surprised. Mohit was an ‘uncle’, a close friend of my father from their time together in Hyderabad, and the person from whom I received my first lessons in Marxism. I called Mohit and told him that his suggestion that Sonia should take charge of the Congress was an outlandish idea. As the political party of India’s freedom struggle, surely it had to have a future independent of the Nehru-Gandhi family? How could he suggest that Sonia become the party’s president merely because she was Rajiv’s widow? I told him people would laugh at him for his political naivete and suggested the column be junked. He was most offended and threatened to go elsewhere if I refused to publish his piece. Finally, I agreed to use it because of my affection and regard for him. Mohit’s column was the first credible public call for Sonia’s induction into public life.
- (...) Mohit, as an Indira loyalist, had a special regard for her heirs. But his opinion that Sonia should enter politics was also based on his conviction that without a Nehru-Gandhi family member at the top, the Congress party would splinter and wither away. This view was also encouraged by members of the Delhi durbar—a ‘power elite’, to use sociologist C.Wright Mill’s term, comprising civil servants, diplomats, editors, intellectuals and business leaders who had worked with or been close to the regimes of Nehru, Indira and Rajiv. Some of them inhabited the many trusts and institutions that the Nehru-Gandhi family controlled. They had all profited in one way or another, over the years, from their loyalty to the Congress’s ‘first family’.
India's broken tryst (2016)
- Singh, T. (2016). India's broken tryst. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers India, 2016.
- Sonia and I had been friends in the days before Rajiv became prime minister. Tensions built up when I criticized his policies, and our friendship ended completely when she entered politics and showed that she wanted very much to become prime minister herself. There was nothing personal about my objections to her political role. They were based on my conviction that an Italian prime minister of India would seriously damage the already fragile sense of self-worth that most Indians have. Centuries of being ruled by foreigners have caused a congenital kink in the Indian psyche... but if there is reverence there is also shame at this reverence, and in retrospect I believe that if Sonia Gandhi had agreed to become prime minister in 2004, she would have certainly not won a second term for her government. At every turn she would have been accused of being the ‘foreign woman’, and every calamity would have been blamed on her personally. So she was well advised by her ‘inner voice’ to reject the job when she was offered it in 2004. This transformed her into the Mother Teresa of politics in the eyes of not just ordinary Indians but even senior political commentators. In an exchange I had on CNN-IBN with the venerable editor Vinod Mehta on Karan Thapar’s show once, he said, ‘Indians love people who sacrifice high office and this is why Sonia Gandhi is so loved.’ She had only sacrificed accountability, not power, I reminded him, and he had no response, but he was not the only one who sang Sonia’s praises after her ‘sacrifice’. Since that day of ‘sacrifice’, sycophants had in the name of protecting secularism crawled out of everywhere. Journalists, bureaucrats, businessmen, movie stars and political leaders united to praise Sonia’s ‘sacrifice’. .... She spoke to nobody until she appeared in Parliament’s Central Hall to announce to her newly elected MPs that her ‘inner voice’ had advised her against becoming prime minister and she intended to obey it. Her announcement caused hysterical shrieks and wails to rise in that high-ceilinged hall as men and women elected by the people of India to represent them in Parliament behaved like children suddenly bereaved of a parent.
- Singh, T. (2016). India's broken tryst. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers India, 2016.
- India in the 1970s was a land of horrible poverty. The death rate for newborn babies was more than 100 per thousand. In Gandhiji’s ‘real India’, it was hard to find a village of ‘pucca’ houses or people in those villages who could write their names. These were things never discussed in the drawing rooms in which Rajiv and Sonia spent their evenings, so the India of poverty, disease, deprivation and dirt never intruded into the life of the woman who would one day become de facto Empress of India. Later she loved saying in the handful of interviews she gave that she had never understood why anyone saw her as a foreigner because that is not how she saw herself. And the carefully vetted interviewers never asked why then she had become an Indian citizen only after her husband became a politician.
- What is true is that Sonia Gandhi’s very successful political career was built with the help of many, many powerful Indians. High officials kowtowed before her as before no other political leader, even after her ‘inner voice’ persuaded her not to become prime minister. Fearless investigative journalists never bothered to investigate her role in the Bofors bribery scandal even after bribe money was found in the Swiss bank accounts of her two best friends, Ottavio and Maria Quattrocchi, and major politicians accepted her suzerainty. And Delhi’s drawing rooms reverberated with praise of the new Empress of India. This is truly what she was, because except in matters of daily governance she remained in total charge of the government.
- Sonia knew nothing of Indian politics but what troubled me more on that morning of her victory was that I knew well that the India she knew, and I am not at all sure loved, was an India whose boundaries did not extend beyond the drawing rooms of Lutyens’ Delhi. It was an India of memsahibs and sahibs, big bungalows and ayahs and holidays in Corbett Park or in the summer months somewhere in the hills. The vast, turbulent nation that lay beyond the framework of this dreary canvas she knew nothing of. In all the years that she lived in Delhi as a prime minister’s daughter-in-law and wife I never once saw her show concerns that could be described as social, except if this word were to be used in the context of social secretaries and dinner parties.
- The reason I quote this sycophantic comment is because it reflects perfectly the consensus in smoke-filled newspaper offices and in Delhi’s television studios. And Sonia, reserved to the point of being uneasy with conversation of any kind, used this to her advantage when it came to handling the media. She evolved a policy whereby she refused to talk to journalists except those who were carefully vetted as supportive and obedient. The kind that may have asked her questions about India’s stand on important international issues or big political and economic problems were never allowed near her. The media was most helpful in this exercise. In newsrooms and TV studios I seemed always to run into some editor or columnist who had just come from 10 Janpath. You could tell that they had almost before they said anything in her support. No sooner did they get that invitation to tea in 10 Janpath than hard-boiled reporters would acquire so changed an expression on their faces that jokes began to be made about how ‘one cup of tea with Sonia Gandhi could change the DNA of a journalist’.
- Everyone knew that Sonia Gandhi was India’s real prime minister right from the moment in 2004 that Dr Manmohan Singh was chosen as her proxy, but her friends in the media – and their ranks were legion – continued to perpetuate the lie that she never interfered in policy. Ministers openly defied the prime minister and still they pretended that India had a real government instead of one appointed by someone whose only political qualification was that she married into a certain family. Editors who would tear government policies to shreds in their columns would never blame them on 10 Janpath. Sonia became as powerful as she did, and without any accountability, with the media playing an insidious, irresponsible role. When I asked famous TV anchors and colleagues in the print media why they accepted so compliantly her absolute refusal to give interviews they had no answers, but later I discovered that they had private access not just to her but to her children. This was enough to keep them quiet. In my own case I continued to point out every instance of direct interference by Sonia in government policy and was reviled for it. And because I was in a minority of one I soon became a target. After Shekhar Gupta resigned from the editorship of the Indian Express he told me that she had personally asked him to stop my column on the grounds of what I wrote against her.
- When Sonia Gandhi’s government came back to power for a second term, nobody was more delighted than the denizens of Delhi’s drawing rooms. They pretended that their support for Sonia was because of their ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ convictions. But as someone who understood this milieu well, I knew it was really because the Dynasty represented for them a vindication of their class and confirmation that the people of that India that lay beyond their tiny, elite, English-speaking world was as certain as they were that India was ruled best when it was ruled by its natural-born ruling class. Prime ministers from the wilds of Gandhiji’s ‘real India’ like Deve Gowda, Charan Singh and Chandrashekhar had shown that they did not have the mass appeal that the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty did. ‘You see, dear, Sonia may well come from a humble background, but you have to admit that she is more like a maharani than most maharanis. She has learned how to rule.’
- Mighty editors and TV stars of Lutyens’ Delhi virtually became Sonia’s public relations agents. So the picture created by the media was of a highly intelligent, compassionate political leader whose only reason for being in public life was her desire to do something for India’s ‘poor’. They knew that she was India’s de facto prime minister but nobody ever wrote this, just as nobody ever wrote that her National Advisory Council was more powerful than poor Dr Manmohan Singh’s cabinet. They knew that Rahul was apolitical and confused about economic and governance issues, but they kept quiet about these things and accepted him as the heir by birth to the democratic throne of India.