Is Sonia Gandhi anti-Hindu

opinion : Dear strangers

No, no, ”shouted the MEPs of the Indian Congress Party when the former finance minister Manmohan Singh asked the group colleagues in the Indian parliament whether someone would propose an alternative to the election of Sonia Gandhi to the top of the group. The architect of Indian opening policy in the early 1990s would have been such a candidate himself. But Sonia, widow of the murdered Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was elected to the party leadership with an overwhelming majority. Now she will take over the government of the world's most populous democracy.

It is the stuff of fairy tales: the oldest democratic party in Asia, founder of modern India, had already been written off. Now she was brought back with the votes of the rural poor. Of those two-thirds Indians who had not benefited from the “shining India”, the economic boom, the IT revolution, call centers and software factories and the new super-wealth in the metropolitan areas. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in office since 1998, had the election prematurely at the height of an unprecedented upswing. Now he had to learn that an economic boom that only benefits a few is not enough.

The revolt of the poor against his overly self-confident government also means the rebirth of the Gandhi family dynasty and makes a Catholic-raised European woman prime minister. Vajpayee's BJP lost particularly where Hindu nationalists started bloody orgies of extermination against Muslims. The voters, said Gandhi, have shown what the soul of India really looks like: "Our nation includes everyone, it is secular and united."

The world rightly congratulates India on this democratic change. Gandhi's political ambitions are also commendable. Greater social justice and harmony in a country home to a third of the world's software engineers and a quarter of the world's malnourished can't be a bad thing. Where the BJP leaves a good legacy, the Congress Party relies on continuity - for example in the peace process with Pakistan. The reform policy, which brought India economic growth of eight percent, should also continue.

But Gandhi will have to work hard to make her promises come true. It must forge a coalition with a colorful bouquet of left-wing parties, including the communists that have become stronger. The obligation she now has for the 300 million impoverished rural dwellers is forcing her to focus on different things. Traditional industries, agriculture will be in the foreground. She had to sacrifice privatization of banks and airlines in coalition negotiations. Reduction of subsidies, deregulation of the oil industry, flexibilization of the labor market, free trade, generally the fundamentally positive attitude towards globalization - with all these reform projects she will have a hard time. The big question is whether investors from India and overseas will stick with them. The stock market crash on Monday shows that India does not have to automatically remain the darling of foreign investors. Gandhi must first earn the trust of the capital markets.

There is also at least a question mark over the peace process. Gandhi will not change course. But you have to see whether the native Italian knows how to deal with Pakistan's President Musharraf as well as Vajpayee. Much also depends on whether the BJP reverted to the old anti-Pakistani Hindu rhetoric in opposition.

In general, India will play a different role on the world stage. The hope of being able to deploy Indian soldiers in Iraq is something that US President Bush has to get out of his head. But the completely unknown map is Sonia Gandhi herself. She has little political experience and, as an outsider, has to find her way in the intrigues of a complex political system to which many Gandhi have already fallen victim. Now it has to turn this weakness into a strength and, especially as an outsider in the multiethnic state of India, it has to become a force of balance.

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