THE RAJYA SABHA, the Upper House of Parliament, recently passed a historic bill reserving for women 33 percent of the seats in the Lok Sabha, the Lower House (though, ironically, not in the Upper House), with its 534 elected representatives, and in the 30 state legislative assemblies. Congress president Sonia Gandhi appeared to have reached a new high in her political career. The 63-year-old widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is exuding more confidence today than she ever has before.
The bill, which has been pending for 14 years, and which seeks to amend the Constitution, is yet to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha, where it is certain to be opposed by a vocal and unruly minority comprising largely of the ‘socialist’ Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Nonetheless, Sonia Gandhi’s smile is wider than it has been in years, wider than the day in May 2004 when her ‘inner voice’ dictated that she ‘sacrifice’ the top job in the country in favour of her chosen nominee, Manmohan Singh, the first Prime Minister of India to have never won a Lok Sabha election.
The two Mrs Gandhis, Indira and Sonia, are being compared again, despite the fact that the chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition and president of the Congress holds no official position in government, unlike Indira Gandhi, who was the country’s head of state over two terms (January 1966-March 1977) and (January 1980-October 1984). Outlook ran a cover story carrying quotes from various commentators, some of whom suggested that Sonia Gandhi had not just become more politically astute than her mother-in-law, but that she was also more “acceptable” to larger sections of Indians because she lacked Indira Gandhi’s arrogance, ruthlessness and dictatorial streak.