CHURUMURI POLL: Sonia, smarter than Indira?

The passing of the women’s reservation bill by the Rajya Sabha last week is the beginning of its journey to become law, not the end. It still has to be passed by the Lok Sabha and be ratified by the majority of the assemblies before it becomes an Act. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the journey has begun, never mind the route and time it will take.

UPA chairman and Congress president Sonia Gandhi has justly cornered much of the credit for pushing the landmark bill through despite opposition from within her own party and across the aisle, although its impact on the Manmohan Singh government will only be known in the days and weeks to come—and although Sonia wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without support from the BJP and the Left parties.

The media has variously interpreted Sonia’s role in piloting the bill. One TV channel saw it as the emergence of a “firmer” Sonia, in the wake of recent reports that she was stepping back. A weekly newsmagazine asks the question whether Sonia is turning out to be smarter than her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi.

The reasoning is: the foreign-born Sonia has managed to resurrect a crumbling century-old party, put it back in power (twice), silently answered her critics, gracefully declined office, put a “professional” to run the country, been less pushy about her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, and above all pushed pathbreaking social legislation like the national rural guarantee scheme, right to information, right to education, and now the bill.

All this, presumably, being in contrast to Indira, who was at the centre of a party split, imposed the Emergency (with censorship), unleashed her son Sanjay Gandhi, mouthed cliches like garibi hatao, silently cultivated fundamentalist forces like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and then launched Operation Bluestar.

In other words, outside of the triumph in the Bangladesh War, Indira Gandhi is seen as a largely negative influence, although some opinion polls find her to be the best PM India has had. In contrast, Sonia Gandhi, although not occupying the high office (therefore enjoying power without responsibility) is likely to be seen by posterity much more kindly than her mother-in-law.

Question: Is Sonia Gandhi turning out to be smarter than Indira Gandhi?