Imagine if the U.S. were run by an Indian Hindu woman without a college degree. It's tough: the U.S. has never elected anyone who's not Christian, white and maleeven as Vice President. But India, which is an even bigger democracy, is run in all but name by an Italian Catholic widow with a high school education. In the 16 years since the assassination of her husband Rajiv, Sonia Gandhi, née Maino, has become the face of the country's most famous family. As leader of India's Congress Party, she has also managed the largest political party in the country and steered it to power. And she has done all this wearing a sari.
When her party won national elections in 2004, she was offered the prime ministership; she listened to her "inner voice" and turned it down, and anointed the economist Manmohan Singh in her stead. It was a gesture that was, well, Gandhian. And it solidified her hold on power. For ordinary Indians, this act of renunciation held tremendous mythic resonance. Though Singh is Prime Minister, it is Sonia, 60, who is the kingmaker. And her most lasting legacy may lie in her children Rahul and Priyanka, one of whom may well become India's Prime Minister someday, ascending to the high office that their mother hasthus farrenounced.
Mehta is the author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found
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