Wednesday, December 7, 2022
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Sonia Gandhi & Rishi Sunak: An Indian Dichotomy   

By Dhiraj Kumar

When Italy born, Sonia Maino met Rajiv Gandhi at the Varsity Restaurant in Cambridge in 1964, she had no idea who he was, whose family he belonged to, or even which country he hailed from. Only after they fell in love at first sight, did she realize he was from the most powerful political family in India (not sure where this country was on the map). Before getting serious and on the stage of commitment, she had to meet Rajiv’s formidable mother, Indira Gandhi who famously put her at ease by speaking to her in French in London. Despite her father’s objections to think it over by staying apart for a year, the little girl from Italy decided to go to India and get married to Rajiv Gandhi. The word politics was alien to her (and remained so for a long time) as she was madly in love and vice versa. Indira Gandhi had by then become Prime Minister of India in 1966 and their marriage in Delhi in 1968 brought Sonia to India for the first time.

After blissful outings with each other and living a carefree life, the young couple remained detached from Indira’s daily troubles of running a country as they led a life away from politics or governance with either having no inclination or interest in politics. Their photograph of having ice cream at the Rajpath near India Gate was a sign of their freedom. Their lives turned upside down as the family faced the sudden demise of Indira’s political successor and Rajiv’s brother Sanjay Gandhi. Sonia’s world came crashing down as there was a lurking feeling that Indira may ask Rajiv to step in from his ideal world to the real world. It eventually happened in the 80s when after Indira’s tragic assassination and despite Sonia’s deep reservations Rajiv became Prime Minister of India in 1984.

On his assassination in 1991, Sonia refused to enter politics despite multiple requests and representations from the Congress Party. Watching the crumbling situation of the Congress, Sonia reluctantly joined politics in 1998 and became President of the Congress Party. Her party colleagues broke rank with her based on her foreign origin and formed new political parties. This did not daunt her as she went to defeat a giant like A.B. Vajpayee in 2004 and formed a multiple-party alliance with United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Sonia has won every Lok Sabha election she has contested be it from Amethi, Bellary, or Rae Bareli with a thumping majority often with a vote share above 60%.

Listening to her “inner voice” and huge opposition from the BJP, she renounced the chair of the Prime Minister and carefully handpicked Dr. Manmohan Singh to lead the country. Sushma Swaraj famously said she would renounce all worldly pleasures and shave her head if an Italian-born Sonia became PM. Sonia by then had spent 36 years in India as India’s famous daughter-in-law but that did not stop naysayers to fuel the fire of her foreign birth. She has since remained a powerful figure in Indian politics without occupying the highest chairs of the land.

Cut to 2022, when Rishi Sunak staked claim to become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to take over from the booted-out Boris Johnson ruling the UK, India was having high hopes. Many Indians were driven by the feverish campaign trail of Indian media which had already declared Rishi the next PM of the UK. The joy of watching a candidate of Indian origin (a former colony of England) rule the UK was tempting for many Indians to follow the election closely. WhatsApp forwards was already congratulating Rishi on his win two months before the party elections on 5th September 2022!

Rishi was born to Yashvir and Usha Sunak in Southampton, the UK in 1980 and is famously known in India as the son-in-law of one of India’s most respected business leaders, Narayan Murthy of Infosys. A UK resident by birth, Rishi rose to the ranks after leaving a career in finance and investment banking to join politics with the Conservative Party. Despite being appointed as first the Secretary of the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi failed in his bid to win the vote of the Conservative Party against his opponent Liz Truss. Alas Liz Truss entered history books as the last Prime Minister Queen Elizabeth appointed and the first Prime Minister in the rule of King Charles III. Today history beckons Rishi to rule United Kingdom as Prime Minister and bring it back to stability from the economic mess it finds itself.

On one side many Indians were against Sonia becoming Prime Minister but celebratory of Sunak making it as the Prime Minister of a foreign country. Therein lies the dichotomy of the mindset of not wanting a person of foreign origin to be leading India despite winning elections and proving without a doubt, that would want Indians to lead in other countries. Sonia was the face of Congress in 2004 and she was voted to power as the possible Prime Minister of India yet history took a different turn. When Kamala Harris became the Vice President of the United States, India rejoiced her as the girl whose mother had origins in Chennai, however, Sonia being by Indian citizen after living for decades in India was not acceptable to some. Indians have led other countries eg. Antonio Costa as Prime Minister of Portugal since 2015, Pravind Jugnauth as Prime Minister of Mauritius since 2017, Prithvirajsing Roopun is serving as the seventh president of Mauritius, Chandrikapersad “Chan” Santokhi as the 9th president of Suriname, since 2020 and Mohamed Irfaan Ali, was sworn in as Guyana’s ninth executive President since 2020 to name a few over the decades but for a non-Indian leading India is still indigestible.

(Dhiraj Kumar is a writer and columnist based out of Mumbai. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at his Twitter profile @authordhiraj and his website www.thedhirajkumar.com)

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