The just concluded visit to Bangladesh by Sonia Gandhi, the chief of the ruling Congress party of India, was highly significant. The much-awaited and much-talked about sojourn lasted for hardly 24 hours, but it was full of importance. The relevance and success of the visit can be simply described as fruition to the brim of the cup. Several aspects – emotional, historic perspective and diplomatic importance were attached to the visit. When judged from all these points of view, it can be concluded that her visit in Bangladesh have gone off to the full satisfaction of both the sides.
Sonia Gandhi needs no introduction in Bangladesh and for that matter elsewhere. Leader of the world’s largest democracy of 1.21 billion people, she is not occupying any official government position. Nonetheless, she wields considerable power and it is a matter of common knowledge that she is the most influential politician in her country at the moment. Reasons are very simple – Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition and also the Congress, which is the driving force of the coalition as the main constituent of the group. More importantly, she could have easily become prime minister of India as the position was on a platter for her following the comeback of the Congress to power in the 2004 elections under her leadership. But Sonia rejected the “golden” opportunity and instead proposed the name of elderly and able former finance minister Dr Monmohan Singh for the job. As the Congress maintained the rule through the 2009 polls, Dr Singh continued as the head of the government and Sonia preferred to remain outside the official position by guiding the party and the ruling alliance. Indeed, it is a splendid gesture. In the one-party communist system, party general secretary generally remains more powerful than the president or the prime minister of the country. But in the democratic practice, the case is vastly different. Then again, it is also “vastly different” for Sonia Gandhi! She is the person who is really calling the shots in the Indian government without being directly in power. A somewhat matchless example in the global affairs.
Her coming to Bangladesh was overdue in the sense that her husband late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was here when Bangladesh was struck by catastrophic floods that battered the coastal areas in 1984. More importantly, her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi’s name is inextricably linked with our glorious liberation war. Even then, the timing of her visit has been propitious as it was mainly for receiving the great honour bestowed on Indira Gandhi by Bangladesh for her remarkable role in the accomplishment of Bangladesh’s independence. Fittingly, receiving the great honour for her mother-in-law is a momentous occasion for Sonia Gandhi in her maiden visit here. Her attendance in an international seminar on autism and talks with Bangladesh leaders also carry a lot of significance – the former for a noble cause and the latter for political importance.
Indo-Bangladesh ties have been built on the edifice of the 1971 background characterised by bonhomie and camaraderie. However, as is the case among sovereign nations and state of affair in the international relations, even the closest relations are dictated by a nation’s own interests while larger issue of cooperation and cordiality has also to be remembered.
New Delhi and Dhaka developed cracks in the ties owing to a variety of issues – some of which are still unresolved. At times, the relationship appeared to touch the nadir that is not desirable, especially with India. Nevertheless, it occurred howsoever rationale the situation was.
It augurs well that the current condition in the bilateral ties is showing all the prospects of forward movements towards resolution of the outstanding issues, if not the actual solutions. The Indian foreign minister SM Krishna paid a visit to Bangladesh recently and the home minister P Chidambramn is also expected to visit soon as a prelude to the high-profile visit of Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh sometime in early September this year. All these visits are creating a positive atmosphere for the visit of the Indian prime minister. But it goes without saying that Sonia Gandhi’s coming here ahead of the visit of Dr Singh in all likelihood will impact very favourably on the bilateral ties. Probably, nothing could be more desirable than the visit of Sonia Gandhi to Bangladesh before the talks that the Indian prime minister will have in Dhaka shortly.
All said and done, Sonia Gandhi herself as a person is of immense interest and curiosity in Bangladesh for obvious reasons. The Italian-born lady has reached the zenith of political success in a country which has no dearth of able politicians. True, the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty has helped her in surmounting the odds on her way to reaching the pinnacle, but her own adroitness and dexterity must be seen as big ingredients in this tumultuous course. She had to ward off the accusations of being a “foreigner” in India and proved her wisdom through elections – both bringing laurels for the party and personally for herself.
This writer saw a suave and homely Sonia Gandhi in the 12 Wellingdon Crescent, New Delhi residence of Indira Gandhi just before the national elections in December 1979 that brought Indira back to power. Then again a few months later, following the death of Indira’s second son Sanjay in a plane crash in New Delhi. Sonia was known to be against her husband Rajiv’s joining politics in the aftermath of Sanjay’s death and was content as the wife of a commercial airline pilot witgh two small children, Rahul and Priyanka. But Rajiv had to come to public life to fill the family void and rose to become prime minister. He was sadly killed by Sri Lankan Tamil militants in 1991 and this time Sonia was approached by the Congress to carry the mantle of her husband.
She politely refused and PV Narasimha Rao became the prime minister as the Congress won the polls riding mainly on the sympathy votes following Rajiv’s assassination. But when the Congress later lost power and was in dire conditions under the leadership of Sitaram Kesri, Sonia finally chose to join politics. Initially, she failed to show any “magic touch”, but later picked up the momentumn and never looked back. She has also groomed up efficiently son Rahul in politics and he is now seen as the future prime minister. The famous political family of Motilal Nehru, Jawhar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi is now strongly entrenched in Rahul for future leadership. All are famous but it goes without any iota of doubt that the path has been really most difficult for Sonia Gandhi. She is known to be broad minded and simple in living compared to her background and status.
Her tribute to Bangladesh as being ahead of India in many social progress indicators unquestionably demonstrates her quality of accepting the reality–regardless of size and power of the two neighbouring nations. A rational approach suggests that the same spirit should guide Indo-Bangla-desh ties for a “win-win” situation.
Source: Financial Express Bangladesh