"Sonia Gandhi loses cool," was the initial media take on yesterday's noisy kerfuffle in Parliament. It played out in that first instant like a playground victory for LK Advani; the kind where the boy yanks the girl's braids just to rile her up. Ha ha, itni choti naak pe itna bada gussa? There was a certain delight in knowing that Sonia's sphinx-like calm had been breached -- and by the grand old man of the BJP party, no less.
But by day 2, the interpretation of events has swung entirely around. "Sonia steals Mary’s punch," reads The Telegraph headline story, which kicks off with this line: "Gloves off and eyes blazing, Sonia Gandhi today locked L.K. Advani in a bout that brought to light an unseen face of India’s most private public figure." Sonia is described as "livid," "extremely angry" as she takes a "headlong plunge into battle."
The imagery is more Kali than Kom.
The less enamoured too conceded that yesterday's performance was far more than a hissy fit. "The way Sonia Gandhi growled and egged Congress men to attack Advani, it showed her fascist roots," tweeted the fake Dr. Manmohan Singh (@PM0India). Everyone agrees: Sonia kicked ass. There ain't nothing wrong with that, and here's why.
One, she's in the kitchen and taking the heat. So Madam S has decided to roll up her sleeves and jump in the fray. That's a whole lot more than what her ever-reluctant son is willing to do, he of the lily-white hands and liver.
“If he [Rahul] opts for a ministerial berth, it will most likely be something that does not expose him to intense political criticism, something that does not involve mass contact and involvement,” confided one Congress leader to The Week, hilariously revealing a shameful reality about the crown prince. A reality that became visible once more as he sat out yesterday's skirmish on the sidelines, preferring to watch silently as mommy beat up the baddies.
Sonia Gandhi has many flaws, but timidity is not one of them. She has never been allowed her critics to sway her mind or push her into changing her style -- though many times to her own and her party's detriment. It's hard to think of another leader -- with exception of Narendra Modi -- who has been as fearless in the face of relentless criticism. And her latest incarnation is likely to be a winner since no Indian woman has ever made it big in politics by playing shy. Just ask Maya, Jaya, Mamata, and Indira. We prefer our female leaders in martial garb.
Two, it's her job, people!After years of being panned for being a shadowy figure in the background, Sonia's decided -- on her time and according to her calculation -- to lead her parliamentary troops from the front. And so it should be. It matters little if her rage is manufactured or if her umbrage justified. She's just doing her job.
Her rival party president Nitin Gadkari is hardly coy when it comes to smacking around his political opponents, infamously comparing Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav to dogs to rile up the faithful. "Bade dakarte the sher jaise, aur kutte ke jaise ban kar Soniaji aur Congress ke ghar par talve chatne lage," he declared at a party meeting. And Gadkari openly boasts that he's "made the BJP more aggressive."
Sonia's just decided to steal a page from her rival's book. Taking offence may indeed be the best defence.
Three, there is no alternative. For all her covert manoeuvring, the Congress party president's never played shrinking violet in the electoral arena, twice leading her party into power. Her new parliamentary profile is the belated acknowledgement that no other Congress leader has the stature or the chutzpah to take on a Modi, and save an embattled, enervated UPA. And that includes MMS and her own son. In the same Week article, a party leader spells it out:
Rahul may not have impressed as a mass leader or a coalition man, but then the era of mass politics and monopoly parties is passing. What we now need are good strategists to draw up a clear blueprint for 2014. For that reason, the Congress party will not hype the coming Assembly elections or pit Rahul against Narendra Modi in some sort of crucial dummy run to 2014.
Even Sonia's stopped waiting for her son to step up -- or measure up. Her fire-and-brimstone performance is designed to rally her demoralised troops and give them hope that, yes, someone is in charge, and will lead the charge. It's a dirty job, and somebody has to do it. More power to Mrs Gandhi for taking it on at a time when the Congressmen around her are uselessly flapping their choodi-laden hands.
If yesterday's mini-battle is indeed a sign of a Narendra v. Sonia battle to come (as Firstpost has analysed elsewhere) it's good news for both Congress and the country. There's no better recipe for democracy than an election that pits two strong leaders with opposing visions against one another. The only hope is that if Sonia does win -- setting aside the merits of such a victory -- that she will fully take on the mantle of leadership, and not once again play kingmaker, this time for Rahul. Over the past 14 years, she's proved that she is the true political heir of the Indira Gandhi, more so than her late husband or her children. With victory should come responsibility -- not dynasty by other means.