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A Week in the Life of India, Part I

How did Sonia Gandhi manage to keep India and the world in suspense about her political future?

May 25, 2004

How did Sonia Gandhi manage to keep India and the world in suspense about her political future?

India has woken up to a surprise election victory by Sonia Gandhi's Indian National Congress Party. The country and the world waited if she would take up the post of prime minister — a job to which she lost both her mother-in-law and her husband. In part I of our Read My Lips feature, we examine the immediate reaction to Ms. Gandhi's victory.

Ms. Gandhi, how do you respond to this unexpected victory?

"The people of India have spoken. They have asserted that the soul of our nation is inclusive, secular and united."
(Sonia Gandhi, President of India's National Congress Party, May 2004)

Given your husband's fate, are you aware that history may repeat itself?

"I can assert that there would be no greater honor for me than to share his fate for the sake of our country."
(Sonia Gandhi, May 2004)

Why did the BJP's slogan "India Shining" not appeal to everyone?

“How is India shining when my house is in darkness because of a power cut this evening?”
(Indian voter, May 2004)

How did some Western media react?

“Bad for the credibility of almost every pundit and pollster, bad for political stability — even perhaps bad for economic reform.”
(Editorial in The Economist, May 2004)

Why did India's financial markets react so strongly to the country's election?

"The market is going to listen to whoever speaks the loudest. And when you have a government that isn’t formed, the government can’t speak at all."
(Andrew Holland, executive vice president at DSP Merrill Lynch in Bombay, May 2004)

Why were quite a few people surprised by Mrs. Gandhi's victory?

"Middle class India wrote Sonia off as an outdated relic of a dying dynasty. But most of India’s voters don’t mind dynasty a bit."
(Mala Singh, Outlook magazine editor, May 2004)

In contrast, what did the prospect of foreign-born Ms. Gandhi leading India mean to critics?

"Cultural suicide."
(Sushma Swaraj, former Indian Health Minister, May 2004)

Have people been cynical about Ms. Gandhi's political inexperience?

“The Italian housewife.”
(Indian newspaper commentator’s reference to Sonia Gandhi, May 2004)

How did some members of the ousted BJP react?

“Only 57 years ago, we have thrown the firangi out of India. Today we are crowning her with our own hand? Is it not a matter of shame?”
(Sushma Swaraj, former Indian Health Minister, May 2004)

Are many Indians worried about the fact that Mrs. Gandhi was born abroad?

"I did not like the fact that they were calling her a foreigner. She’s the daughter-in-law of this country."
(Sant Raj, farmer in the Indian town of Bushapur, May 2004)

Which overlooked demographic group seems most likely to have caused the upset victory by the Congress Party?

"Depending on which season it is, India has between 100 million to 200 million unemployed — or underemployed — people. China also has such problems. But in India, they have the vote."
(Abhijit Sen, Indian economist, May 2004)

Did the Indian National Congress Party rightly focus on India's poor?

“Democracy is cherished by the poor in India. Whereas economic prosperity reaches them only slowly — no matter which policies are put into place — the political right to vote has an immediate, even electrifying, effect. The poor vote massively.”
(Jagdish Bhagwati, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, May 2004)

How to sum up the events surrounding India's electoral surprise?

"We’ve had surprise followed by uncertainty."
(John Thorn, manager of the India Capital Fund, May 2004)

Read Part II of A Week in the Life of India