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'The Congress is a different party under Sonia'

May 22, 2008

Ashis Nandy, one of India's leading thinkers, looks at Sonia Gandhi's style of politics and the changes she has brought into the Congress party.

Part I of the interview: '4 years have legitimised Sonia as an outsider'

In conversation with Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt, Dr Nandy believes Sonia will last longer than her critics expect her to and why the Indian people have always surprised him with their collective wisdom.

Do you think Sonia Gandhi has handled the Left parties well? The prime minister is pro-liberalisation, while Sonia Gandhi is playing a pro-people and Centre-to-Left politics by raising issues of the aam aadmi. How do you see their politics?

Frankly, I don't see anybody at face value. I am sure Manmohan Singh thinks that he is doing all these things for the people. The way he is doing it is not acceptable to some intellectuals, Leftists etc. Even Atal Bihari Vajapyee looked Left of Centre and Advani seemed Right of Centre. I doubt these things. They are satisfying some lobby or the other.

If you take a panoramic view of the last ten years, how do you rate Sonia Gandhi's leadership qualities?

I expected the worst from her, let me tell you.

Like?

I did not expect her to be able to keep the party together in this fashion. And she gave tough support to a person who didn't have a political base himself. It is because Manmohan Singh doesn't have political support that she was more free about giving him the support he required.

In one sense, the Congress is a different party under her. We make the mistake of comparing this Congress with the earlier Congress. It is a different party in a different time. Only the name is the same. This Congress is the mainstream political party which has only one continuity with the earlier Congress. This Congress has the same capacity to change its colours according to the changes in time. This Congress is at the centre of the ideological spectrum. Some Congressmen do move Left, some move to the Right. Most people wait in the centre to find out -- Left or Right, which force will dominate and then they sing with them.

Image: Congress party President and Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance Sonia Gandhi and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at an All India Congress Committee meeting. Photograph: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images

Also see: Four years of UPA: Foreign policy adrift
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