We missed you, Sonia Gandhi
Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine, the French writer, poet and politician who was instrumental in the foundation of the Second Republic, once said, "Sometimes when one person is missing, the whole world seems depopulated." Sonia Gandhi took ill and left for New York on August 4, 2011; she was reported to have returned on September 8, 2011. Her presence was sorely missed in the interim. It is widely believed that she will require a few more days to recover.
Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, known as Che Guevara (born on June 14, 1928, in Rosario, Argentina into a middle-class family) studied medicine at Buenos Aires University and, on a visit to Mexico in 1954, met Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. Guevara joined Castro's '26th July Movement' and played a key role in the eventual success of its guerrilla war against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
From 1959-1961, Guevara was president of the National Bank of Cuba and then minister of industry. In this position, he travelled the world as an ambassador for Cuba. In 1959, after visiting India, Che wrote, "Nehru welcomed us with the friendly familiarity of a patriarchal grandfather but with noble interest for the concerns and struggles of the Cuban people and made recommendations of extraordinary value, while showing samples of an unconditional affection towards our cause."
When Che was murdered in the jungles of Bolivia in October 1967, he was already a legend not only in Latin America but also around the world. He was most known for his work in a country that was not his own. The distance between Buenos Aires and Havana is nearly 7,000 kilometres.
Sonia Gandhi was born to Stefano Maino and Paola Predebon on December 9, 1946, at Lusiana, Vicenza, Italy. She met Rajiv Gandhi when enrolled in a language school at Lennox Cook School, Cambridge, UK. She completed her Course in 1965 and got married in 1968. In her own words: "Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the course my destiny would take...I was born in Europe, but was soon claimed by another world more diverse and more ancient. At school, I learnt of the Risorgimento, of Mazzini and Garibaldi and the unification of Italy. But of India, its great history and its emergence as a modern nation-state, I was taught nothing. My discovery of India happened differently, through the encounter with a remarkable human being. This discovery would take up the rest of my life!"
The distance between Vicenza and Delhi is about 6,000 kilometres.
A reluctant politician, she is described by former Governor PC Alexander in his book 'My Years with Indira Gandhi' to have tearfully begged Rajiv Gandhi not to accept the position of the Prime Minister of India. She remained firmly away from all political activity for seven long years between 1991 and 1998, till the Congress Party started crumbling.
She herself turned down the position of Prime Minister - once in 1991 when the party requested her to do so after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and again in 2004.
She said, "I was always certain that if ever I found myself in the position that I am in today, I would follow my own inner voice. Today, that voice tells me I must humbly decline this post."
Nelson Mandela famously said, "It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership."
Despite the fact that the electorate had overwhelmingly voted for the Sonia Gandhi-led alliance, Sushma Swaraj, true to her form, promoted right-wing apartheid by threatening to tonsure her head if Sonia Gandhi were to become the Prime Minister of India.
In fact, it has been the constant endeavour of the party Swaraj belongs to, to depict Sonia Gandhi as someone who basks in deep intrigue, a long and unproven link to Ottavio Quattrochi is often cited. That Sonia Gandhi turned out to be the primary proponent of the Right to Information Act, which provides each Indian with the unique power to secure any information from any government department, has come to haunt them.
Politics for Sonia Gandhi has always been the medium for serving the poor and the weaker sections. In her words, "As a politician in a country where many still live in poverty, it is my obligation and my responsibility to strive to empower the poor and the vulnerable." She is a strong votary for providing adequate representation to women in public life and steered the Women's Reservation Bill to what very nearly became a law.
As Congress president, UPA chairperson and chairperson of the National Advisory Council, she has contributed to many flagship programmes of the government. Bharat Nirman has spurred development works in villages. Farmers' loans have been waived off. They have been ensured that their produce will fetch remunerative prices. A ministry for minorities has been created for the very first time which is implementing the recommendations of the Sachhar Commission.
In fact, the passage of the RTI Act, which is arguably the biggest tool in our hands to check corruption, has been strongly recommended by NAC which she heads. Through the Right to Education, every child has been given the opportunity to get elementary education.
Add to this the mid-day meal programme for children coupled with scholarships for the poor and for the minorities with particular attention to the girl child. With the accentuated problem of landlessness and marginalized holdings, the right to employment has been ensured through the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA which guarantees employment to each person below the poverty line for a hundred days a year.
Further, a food security bill is being planned. The NAC had held long and serious deliberations on the Lok Pal Bill when Anna Hazare arrived on the scene with the help of right wingers.
Having lost both her mother-in-law and husband to separate acts of terrorism, the rare courage she displayed in overlooking personal tragedy and choosing to remain in the country is stupendous. Sonia Gandhi has stayed the course because her "journey from the placid backwaters of a contented domestic life to the maelstrom of public life has not been an easy one. Yet, despite its sorrows and difficulties, I have found in my new existence both fulfillment and a larger sense of purpose. The family to which I first pledged my fidelity was in the confines of a home. Today my loyalty embraces a wider family - India, my country, whose people have so generously welcomed me to become one of them."
She has consistently displayed understated leadership, enormous dignity, immense grace under pressure, her profound sense of sacrifice and body of work bespeak a personality that will inspire generations to come around the world.
Sonia Gandhi, I wish you a speedy recovery and a long and healthy life in the service of the nation.
More about Brijesh KalappaBrijesh Kalappa, an advocate in the Supreme Court, is the Additional Advocate General, Haryana. A former journalist, he has a wide range of interests including reading and travelling. He has worked with several legal luminaries on subjects of importance in civil, criminal, water and electoral laws and has individually represented governments, eminent individuals and major industrial houses. Gifted with the prowess for distinctive sharp-edged analysis, he has been working closely with several leaders of the Indian National Congress.
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