Sonia Gandhi vs Sushma Swaraj:
The fiercest rivalry in Indian politics
Livemint, August 18, 2015
They are the two
most powerful and senior women in Indian politics, but Sushma
Swaraj and Sonia Gandhi have always had a rocky relationship.
And although they come from two ends of the political spectrum,
a few of their run-ins have been personal as well.
It all started in 1999, when Sonia Gandhi contested the Lok
Sabha election. She filed her nomination from two
constituencies?Bellary, Karnataka, and the Gandhi family seat of
Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
fielded Swaraj, the in-house orator and poster child for the
?adarsh bharatiya nari??an ideal Indian woman.
With a big bindi on the forehead, sindoor (red vermilion powder)
in the parting of her hairline and photo-ops celebrating various
festivals dressed in traditional attire, Swaraj was the perfect
nationalistic foil to what the BJP derided as the ?Italian-born?
Gandhi, widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
And thus the seeds of the battle between the ?Indian beti? and
the ?foreign bahu??daughter of India versus Italian
Swaraj lost in Bellary, but the battle was revived in 2004, when
the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won the general election
and Congress loyalists urged Sonia Gandhi to take up the prime
Then, in what can only be described as over-the-top and
exaggerated outburst, Swaraj threatened to shave her head and
wear white?a Hindu sign of mourning?if Gandhi became the prime
minister. At the time, Swaraj had said her reaction was due to
her hurt sentiments because, as she put it, ?even after the
culmination of British rule and the sacrifices made by fellow
Indians?a foreigner was being chosen?.
Swaraj has maintained this line ever since, expressing
admiration for Sonia Gandhi but stating that her selection for
the top job was unacceptable to her.
The tables were turned when Sonia Gandhi refused to accept the
post of prime minister. With the bahu making the ultimate Indian
woman?s sacrifice, the entire game changed. ?The BJP could not
keep harping on her foreign origins after that. Whether it was
an emotional decision or a calculated one, we can only
speculate, but it silenced all of Sonia?s critics and ended the
foreign aspect of the debate once and for all,? says a political
analyst, who did not wish to be identified.
Over the past few years, the relationship between the two
leaders has been tentative.
According to a report in The Telegraph newspaper, in the 15th
Lok Sabha, Swaraj ?warmed up? to Sonia Gandhi, though it took a
lot of effort on the BJP leader?s part to ?thaw their
The paper said that during US President Barack Obama?s visit in
2010, the two women discussed families and saris.
?I think it?s not fair to assume that two politicians will be
friends just because their gender is the same. Why should the
equation between these two MPs (members of Parliament) be
singled out for scrutiny? Over the years, many politicians have
had run-ins like this,? said a BJP leader. The following year,
Sonia Gandhi complimented Swaraj while delivering a Commonwealth
lecture on women, calling her a woman of substance. In 2014,
Swaraj praised Sonia Gandhi on the floor of the House as a
But from there to Swaraj?s ask mumma? speech last week?taunting
Sonia Gandhi?s son Rahul Gandhi?and Sonia calling Swaraj
?maahir? (expert) in theatrics, it seems as if the work of the
last five years has been undone. ?I think they both are acting
out a new kind of morality play, a Punch and Judy show, if you
must, as there is no quality of communication,? says sociologist
Shiv Visvanathan. Political watchers, however, dismiss this as a
simple political rivalry with no personal animosity. ?Simply
put, they both can take each other and as such they do,? said a
political analyst. And perhaps that?s all there is to it.
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