Sonia Gandhi faces rare criticism of her leadership

February 2, 2011

Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi smiles as she addresses the media at her residence in New Delhi May 16, 2009. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

In her nearly 13 years as the all-powerful chief of the Congress party which heads India’s ruling coalition, Sonia Gandhi has, of late, rarely faced criticism of her leadership.

If anything, she has appeared to tighten her grip on the party since her early days as its leader when her authority was challenged by a trio of senior Congress leaders, who were subsequently expelled.

So when G. Venkataswamy, veteran Congress leader from southern Andhra Pradesh state, questioned Sonia’s ability to lead on Tuesday, going so far as to even suggest that she step down, it received wide publicity in the Indian press.

Venkataswamy, a member of the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest policy making body and a seven-time MP, said he doubted Sonia could help the party win in the 2014 general election.

The apparent reason for Venkataswamy’s diatribe against Sonia is the party’s move to align with another regional party opposing a demand to divide Andhra Pradesh. Venkataswamy backs the bifurcation of the state which is home to such global corporations as Microsoft and Google. He also blamed Sonia for failing to curb growing corruption in the government.

But is Venkataswamy’s criticism a lone, isolated voice or does it mask more simmering discontent against Sonia’s leadership beneath an apparently calm surface?

While public criticism of Sonia by party members is rare, there has been a growing sense in a section of Congress that the man she chose to be prime minister, Manmohan Singh, may have failed to govern as the coalition is buffeted by a slew of crises, including massive corruption scandals.

That, many in Indian media, see as a possible indirect voice of dissent against Sonia’s manner of functioning.

In May 1999, three senior leaders of the party — Sharad Pawar, Purno A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar — challenged her right to become prime minister because of her foreign origins. She responded by offering to resign as party chief, resulting in an outpouring of support for her and the expulsion from the party of the three rebels.

At one level the remarks of Venkataswamy could be dismissed as ranting from an 85-year-old disgruntled party member whose days in politics are only numbered.

But is there a chance he was only articulating what many in Congress party agree with but few will ever air in public?

4 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

I guess Venkataswamy has his reasons but I doubt there’s an anti-Sonia campaign behind the scenes.

Posted by ToeKnee | Report as abusive

I doubt if Venkataswamy will be able to perform as Sonia as party chief,India is not one region country’

Posted by zauva | Report as abusive

That someone has spoken his mind is to be welcomed. I am more interested in knowing the eventual outcome of this outburst. How the Congress reacts to this is more to the point.

Though there may be a school which thinks Sonia Gandhi chose the wrong person for the PMs post, I think it is probably closer to reality that those who are carping now are doing so only because they know that this is Manmohan Singh’s last tenure. They are preparing for the next PM’s entry, perhaps that day is further away than they hope for. And maybe their bickering and non-performance will be the cause of the Congress missing the bus the next time around. People want results, rhetoric and platitudes have now been exposed for what they really are and fall on deaf ears.

I feel it is not so much that Dr Manmohan Singh is rudderless as that he has been shackled and not given the freedom to function.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

My answer to the following question in the last sentence of the article would be YES:

“But is there a chance he was only articulating what many in Congress party agree with but few will ever air in public?”

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive