Sonia Gandhi faces rare criticism of her leadership
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?