Please, no more purdah politics

When Sonia Gandhi decided to become a politician, cruel gossips in Delhi's political circles said she spent many hours watching old videos of the first Mrs Gandhi before deciding to take the plunge. I dismissed the stories as unkind chatter until I attended her first public meeting in Sriperumbudur in January 1998. Having known her in her apolitical days, I was amazed by the transformation. I noticed that she had copied her mother-in-law's taste in saris, her skippy walk up the steps of the stage and even the shrill tone she used when she wanted to sound forceful.

But, perhaps because she was uninterested in politics in all the years she spent living in her mother-in-law's house, Sonia never discovered the real secret of Indira Gandhi's incredible success as a politician. Never learned that her political strength came from her tireless efforts to remain in constant touch with ordinary people. What is now abundantly clear is that Sonia's real weakness as a political leader comes from her aloofness. Not just from ordinary people but from the media and even from her political workers.

Aloofness does not work in public life and this should be obvious to her now that her government's economic and political chickens are coming home to roost. Last week was a particularly bad one on the roosting chickens front. Standard & Poor's not just warned that India's credit rating could come down to junk status, it went further and blamed this on the 'division' of political leadership in the Indian government.

Sonia's more strident spokespersons went instantly onto the nearest television channel to hysterically denounce this as rubbish. They pointed out that if India could grow at more than 8 per cent during the Sonia-Manmohan government's first stint in power then why not now. It should be clear what changed.

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