May 10, 2016 8:31:32 pm
In May, the temperature is rising literally and politically. Rather like the month in 2004 when the BJP had lost the Lok Sabha election and Sushma Swaraj had famously vowed to shave her head if a foreigner became Prime Minister of India.
Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin issue had created a political firestorm then. However, the issue was more or less politically settled soon after when she refused to take up the prime minister-ship and opted for Manmohan Singh in the saddle.
Her Italian origins did make their way into the political discourse on and off in the subsequent years, mostly when Ottavio Quattrocchi hit the headlines.
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Twelve years later, the AgustaWestland payoff scandal has once again brought her Italian background to the political centre stage. The difference is that this time Gandhi is more combative in countering the allegations raised over her allegiance. This time she addressed the issue head on and has not left it to her party or its leaders to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Of course, Congressmen – who never miss a chance to proclaim and advertise their unswerving loyalty to her – created a ruckus in Parliament after Modi linked her to the Agusta deal through her Italian connections. What is interesting though is that Gandhi has chosen not to shy away. In the recent years, she has rarely spoken about the foreign origin issue and tried to underplay it.
Modi fired a salvo at her at a poll meeting in Kerala and she chose the same venue to hit back. Her emotional counter attack with ample stress on commitment and love for India was scripted well. To counter the BJP, the Congress too had been trying to talk the language of nationalism of late. Be it the party’s support to non-Kashmiri students who were baton charged by the police at NIT Srinagar or its flirtation with the Bharat Mata Ki Jai chant.
An assertive, Gandhi has been trying to lead from the front. The Agusta controversy put paid to the Congress’s offensive strategy, both inside and outside Parliament, but Gandhi did most of the talking at a street protest organised by the Congress last week.
While Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi wrapped up his rather insipid speech in less than five minutes, Gandhi tore into Modi and the RSS. She has been commanding her depleted forces in Lok Sabha also rather well.
And much needed good news has come from the Hills today with the Congress almost certainly winning the trust vote in the Uttarakhand assembly. The grand old party, cornered over Agusta and earlier the Ishrat Jahan affidavit row, is elated. Its members hyper ventilated in Parliament. And if the Supreme Court rules its in favour on Wednesday quashing the presidential proclamation, the party will go to town claiming victory. And it could be a much needed morale booster for Gandhi & Co.
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