Posted by: John Elliott | September 3, 2012

Make Sonia the Prime Minister – and change the BJP Opposition

Out of the Box (Off the Wall?) solutions for India’s political mess

Here are two ideas for breaking the current deadlock in India’s politics – make Sonia Gandhi the Prime Minister, and change the Opposition.

The first idea is mine and is unlikely to happen because it would be too much of a gamble for the Gandhi family, though my argument throws up some dynastic issues.

The second idea came from a frustrated foreign stockbroker and banker based in Mumbai, who wants an early general election, even though he knows it will probably lead to an even more directionless coalition government, because it would (probably) get rid of the debilitating Bharatiya Janata Party as the main opposition in parliament.


It is a measure of the plight facing India, its politics, and its badly led economy, that there is no credible and likely Congress Party candidate to be the next prime minister – hence my idea of Sonia – and that getting rid of the BJP in opposition is maybe the best thing that could happen politically.

Congress has a real leadership crisis, despite the fact that many commentators still believe that 42-year old Rahul Gandhi, heir to head both his family dynasty and the Congress Party, will emerge as a realistic prime ministerial candidate by the general election due in 2014.

Rahul however seems to have no intention of moving sufficiently into mainstream politics and the government job to warrant such a belief – and, indeed, currently has such a downbeat demeanour that it is hard to see him leading anything. He indicated in July that he was ready to play a larger role, but he has been notable since then mostly for his absence from day-to-day politics.

What he is prepared to do might become clearer later this month when long-awaited ministerial and party leadership appointments are expected. But he certainly is not at this time a realistic prime ministerial candidate – and there are no other obvious names, assuming Manmohan Singh, who is 80 later this month, retires in 2014.

“PM that never was; the Oppn that shouldn’t be” pic and caption – of BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and Sonia Gandhi – in Outlook magazine where a revised version of this article appears as a column (see comments below)

Maybe Congress does not need a new leader. Since it expects to lose the 2014 election, it is probably logical for it not to name a prime ministerial candidate, but to go into the election campaign led by Sonia Gandhi, who is 65, and Rahul and current ministers. Then it can decide what to do about its leadership when a coalition government is being formed and it sees who potential partners would prefer to work with as party leader. The family could also decide, after seeing how well Rahul did in the election campaign, whether to bring Priyanka, Rahul’s more personable sister, into active politics as a potential leader.

It would be much braver however to announce – maybe in the middle of next year if not before – that Manmohan Singh is retiring immediately and that Sonia is becoming Prime Minister, as is her right as the president of the party and a member of parliament. When she declined the job in 2004, she arguably did not have the experience to take it on, but she has now gained that experience and would probably do a better job than Rahul, if only because she is in total command of the party and no longer has to prove herself.



An NDTV poll broadcast last night showed that 46% of respondents thought that Congress would do best to choose Rahul to lead it into the next election, with 33% going for Manmohan Singh and 21% for Sonia.

That is an extraordinary result from the 30,000 people polled (in about a quarter of parliamentary seats across 18 big states) because Rahul has shown absolutely no aptitude for front line day-to-day national politics, rarely speaks on current issues, and has no experience of government.

I wonder whether Sonia’s low support in the poll was mainly because she is not regarded as a candidate for the job, which she turned down in 2004. It could also partly be because she has been ill. She is currently visiting the US for medical tests, one year after an operation widely believed to have been for cancer, and she did not look well when I saw her in a Delhi art gallery ten days ago. But she has shown in the past few weeks that she can perform an active party leadership role both in parliament and outside, so would the opinion poll vote for her have been bigger if people thought she was a possible candidate?

Making her prime minister would also make her answerable publicly for the policies, notably on the economy, that she currently pushes from behind the scenes but never has to defend.

It would however almost certainly be too much of a gamble with the future of the dynasty. Everything that Sonia has done in the past 15 to 20 years shows that she sees her role primarily as a bridge between her late husband Rajiv and their son Rahul. She has worked to ensure that the dynasty survives, and has not tried to become India’s top leader. To this end, she has been much more candid and determined in naming her successor than any earlier member of the dynasty. And  she has virtually every other Congress leader – including Manmohan Singh – joining her chorus for Rahul to get his act together.

Given her Italian origins, that is a logical position. But my hunch is that she is probably Congress’s best chance of avoiding appalling defeat in 2014, despite the Italian issue.

If she failed, it would be a dangerous setback for the dynasty, and could encourage rumblings about Congress having a non-Gandhi leader. That of course would be a good development because near-automatic dynastic rule and family succession is not good for a democracy.

But dynasties don’t take such gambles with their futures, so it almost certainly won’t happen, and will one of those “What If……” questions for future generations – “What if Sonia had shaken off her cautious courtiers and had made herself prime minister by 2014?”


  1. Hello john
    What an idea make sonia PM & change the opposition. Will Britain make a African or Chinese or an Indian as its prime minister candidate?? Similarly we Indians need someone from Indian Origin as our head & not an Italian Antonia Maino. Many people even in the congress party don’t agree with that. It seems you are congress chamcha..Indians are feed up with this pseudo -secular party. And your stockbroker friend from mumbai, seems to have some allergy with Bjp..

  2. These comments have been sent to Outlook, an Indian news-weekly magazine where this article appeared, in a revised form, as a column

    Sept 08, 2012

    Ramki Delhi, India Making Saint Sonia as Prime Minister will not make an ounce of difference to the impending defeat of UPA in the next general elections scheduled for 2014..
    Because, the whole world knows that since 2004, Saint Sonia and her kitchen cabinet (called NAC) has effectively been ruling and driving the government of Dr MMS right from May 2004.

    Ramki Delhi, India
    It is interesting to note that Congress Party, gave India two, yes two prime ministers outside of the Nehru-Indira-Rajiv-Sonia dynasty family.
    The two gentlemen were also undoubtedly the best Prime Ministers to rule India. But the dynasty has done everything to bury the legacy of these two prime ministers. How many statues and monuments are named in India after LB Shastri and PV Narasimha Rao? LB Shastri died a very mysterios death and we still have no convincing reply as to whether it was a natural death or a murder !!!
    PVNR completed his full term but was accused of so many scams and scandals which could all be true but these accusations could not be logically concluded and the man was politically erased from the memory of Congress once Saint Sonia took over the party directly in March 1998. And he died in 2004, unremembered.
    Will we be 3rd time lucky post 2014 ? HOw about a genuine, non dynasty congress man/woman in charge of India’s principal opposition party post 2014, who refuses to bow to the family?

    Sep 09, 2012

    Arun Maheshwari Bangalore,
    India In the wisdom of a famous Bihari/Bhojpuri saying …. “gayil (apni) bhainswa (tho) paani mein”.

    Bharat delhi, India
    Too idiotic an article to bother with still in the interest of placing actual facts here goes:
    Majority of the 1 billion Indians don’t want an Italian as PM, especially an uneducated housewife (smart enough to have married a PM’s son of a third world nation to escape poverty), not to mention that she who lived (and travelled extensively abroad at Indian taxpayers’ expence) at the mother-in-law PM’s residential house for 17 years without bothering to take Indian citizenship, not to mention that she ditched her mother-in-law and ran with her husband Rajiv and children after her mother-in-law’s autocratical emergency ended to her country Italy’s embassy.
    Looks like the writer’s stockbroker friend would like to see BJP banned as a political party – not surprising : both crony capitalists and Lefties and ‘intellectuals’ would rather see India bankrupt by siphoning all money to Swizerland and other tax havens than have BJP. Such is their hatred for HIndus and colonial mindset.
    We got rid of authoritarian and corrupt Indira and her son Sanjay after Emergency, we got rid of corrupt Rajiv after Bofors defence scam and we will get rid of Sonia and Manmohan and India will prosper again.
    Just need the BJP to put their petty differences for the Country’s good like they did under JaiPrakash narayan and Vajpayee.

    pankaj jethi jagadhri, India
    Or another thing ‘mam g’ can do is to appoint another of her household assistant or servant to the pm’ s post. After all she has a penchant for selecting her trusted people to constitutional positions, like pratibha patil,hamid ansari,naveen chawla,manmohan ji etc.
    I have a very big doubt about manmohan ji, was he working as ‘mam g’s personal ca before becoming pm. It fits perfectly…….

  3. These comments have been sent to The Independent newspapers blog site where this post also appears

    Manu Aash • 3 days ago
    So she can Corrupt again, nice idea!!!!

    Niveditha Sunderraj • 3 days ago
    Congress is bound to lose anyway. Given the current pathetic situation that Sonia Gandhi and her puppets have fleeced the country to be in.
    She’s not an “economist” Bottomline is she is as uneducated as a mcdonalds fries server.

    There are far bigger issues in India that the congress does not care about because they’re busy eating up the country’s money. So I absolutely disagree with your argument.

    NT86 • 4 days ago
    Congress will only regain the respect of voters if they move away from the corrupt dynastic politics of the Gandhi’s. If Congress wants to get re-elected in 2014 they must ensure that this family lets go of the party and passes it on to some new blood with fresh ideas.

  4. Sonia Gandhi would be the best bet as of now compared to Rahul or Priyanka in the congress party. But why the dynasty? The answer lies in the following: Among the top contenders let us take Advani,Modi who have a pathological hatred of the Nehru/Gandhi family & the others I.e Muslims. They have communalised the country at every step. Their closest allies the Shiv Sena & the other Hindutva forces have limited agenda which is parochilal & reactionary. Sharad Pawar is a Maratha manus,Mamta is dedicated Bangla Mati,Modi has a Gujrat solution to all Indian States. Mulayam is an opportunist. Nitish Kumar & Mayawati can be considered but can they carry the country with them or do they have an all India vision which is modern,impartial,scientific,secular & inclusive. An International perspective with good relations with neighbours & third world countries is important. About Rahul or Priyanka,one never knows how people come into their own by circumstances. It is true of Nitish also. Mayavati is a remarkable women. Sonia & Mayavati can make a good combination.

  5. Out of the box indeed. But this is getting a tad too tiring for the rest of us citizens. For the outside observer it is all about predicting political dynamics in the world’s so-called ‘largest democracy’. What’s important to remember is that giving the post of the PM by a mum to her son is not the same as a mum handing over the key to the family’s shoestore to her son. We are talking about a country here!

    Nobody in the mainstream speaks about a single family ruling over millions of people for decades. Though everybody knows about it. Even it seems you have tacitly admitted that any member of this family comes to power without having to face a real test.

    We must debate and question the family’s hold of the country’s government and separate this aspect from actual political discussions, so that we can identity the objective from nepotism, is it not?

    What is the need of predicting the political moves of this family, when the right thing to do would be to remove (at least in theory) this family altogether and put into place a non-family-rule set up? Yes, Gandhi members should be part of it, but not in the “I am inheriting my father’s business” type of climbing up the ladder.

  6. Do we have no body other than the dynasty to lead India to a prosperous Nation?Is it illogical to think that even John Eliot has come to this mind numbing conclusion? Is India done up throwing credible leadership to itself? Nature always throws up surprises. Mr John,India will surprise you as Britishers were surprised by Mahatma Gandhi.

  7. Thinking dynastically, whatever happened to the infinitely more charismatic Gandhi sibling Priyanka?

    Thanks ‘Bulbul’for reminding me that I should have mentioned Priyanka – I have now inserted the following into the piece:
    ….The family could also decide, after seeing how well Rahul did in the election campaign, whether to bring Priyanka, Rahul’s more personable sister, into active politics as a potential leader…… je

  8. Rahul Gandhi has ye to shake off the stupor after the UP elections. I believe he has lost self confidence and hence is taking a backseat. It would do the Congress good to push him again to the forefront and speak on various issues. The worst thing which can befall a politician in a hero worshipping country like India is to go out of public sight or hearing!

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