Sonia Gandhi is a presence even as her party fades away because she is the incredible formula that keeps the party together.
The adage goes that old soldiers never die, they merely fade away. A friend of mine told me that while it is true of soldiers who disappear in a swirl of nostalgia, politicians die in parts, disintegrating to bits and pieces till memory is unkind to them. Who remembers Shastri or Rao or Jagannath Mishra or any of the stalwarts who lost out?
Memory and politics as presence requires some context to weave form and content into something credible. Sonia Gandhi is a presence even as her party fades away because she is the incredible formula that keeps the party together. Even in a moment of defeat , she behaves with dignity, upholds a tradition. She might be the doting mother wheeling Rahul in an invisible pram but she is tough on her self. The lines on her face say it. She is still a profile in courage and survival.
One has to admit it. She is an improbable phenomena, an Italian Catholic playing mother-in-law to the Congress, confronting Modi, Advani or Vajpayee with ease. They can attack her politics, chew up her strategy for the electorate but will be still forced to acknowledge her presence. Oddly she, not Rahul or Priyanka, is the Congress.
She is part immaculate conception, part Teflon coated politician. It is a tribute to the tolerance of Indians that they pretend to understand her Hindi. She screech-stammers her telegraphic sentences sustaining innuendos with a mid level pause. Her speeches are boring and the opposition thrives on her quotable “misquotes”. She walks around with quiet confidence as if Delhi is her drawing room. She is a survivor, who has adapted to every role from naive guest, subdued daughter in law to playing the Durga of the Congress. It is as if the women in her has given her the strength, the stamina, the instincts to survive a hostile environment. She is not quite Mother India but motherly enough to dominate the Congress. She knows “after her the deluge,” because no Congress leader, will let the other survive, one she leaves the scene. She is indispensable for the Congress while her children are a genuine handicap to its continuity. As a wag put it, “she has to last to be good, but she is only good as long as she lasts.”
One does not have to be a Subramanian Swamy to realize that she is flawed. But you have to be more than Swamy to sense, that her flaws strengthen the overall alloy called Sonia. Like Maggie sauce, people sense she is different and may still have some spice, some flavour left in her.
Some things are clear in this moment of misery for the Congress. She is still the leader. She is still listened to. She still decides. She is the whole that defines the sum of the parts. She has the dignity of defeat. Manmohan sounds like the Common man who has lost his tongue and his marbles. Digvijay and other secretaries are mere commentators of her text. She stands alone, she is alone, but because she stands, the Congress holds together. With a slightly jaundiced eye, one can call her mother courage.
It is in moments of trial that one discovers the qualities of a person and she embodies dignity in defeat. To attend occasion after occasion, as people chuckle over the defeat of the Congress, to see people sticking needles into the wax doll called the Party and not flinch, to stand immaculate in defeat even when the body is frayed creates a fable of its own. Defeat added to Sonia’s grace in a way power never did. You do not have to agree with her to admire her at a distance.
She is the only mass figure in the Congress. She is showing all the courage, the confidence of revival. She knows history has lost its magic that the Congress is no longer the glue that holds the system. Quietly, tenaciously, desperately she senses it might still serve as a force that helps create an opposition, a resistance to the BJP juggernaut. She can still connect to the opposition, threaten a farmers rally on land acquisition bill, reach out to Anna Hazare, make a pert if not pertinent comment on Modi’s foreign policy.
She cannot revive the old past as the new future. A new generation marches to a different song but still finds her musical. One does not know whether it is nostalgia, charm, charisma, but her presence works and there are some desperate moments when a sympathetic observer feels history might turn again. If she stood alone that could be true. As part of the Gandhi family, politics will not break through the current inertia. As she talks to Anna Hazare, one realizes a few small miracles could go a long way.
She must be lonely . I am not talking only of her loss as a wife, a daughter in law but I sense her loyalty to them and feels she will promise to hold all as her act of stewardship . I cannot see myself vote for Congress. I prefer the silliness of AAP to the stupidity of Congress, or even the boring piety of BJP. But she has added a fizz to the dullness of politics, an effervescence of gossip, a sense of change, a caveat to the current inevitability of Modi. One is grateful for that.