Former Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist Natwar Singh’s book and his interactions with journalists have once again exposed the lie that that Sonia Gandhi made a great sacrifice in 2004 when she offered the prime minister’s post to Manmohan Singh. While political commentators are busy scrutinizing the former retainer’s statements, it would be instructive to go back and see how the renunciation myth began in the first place.
The very semantics exposes the myth. The word ‘renunciation’ presupposes something in possession or on offer which the possessor gives up willingly. I can’t renounce a palace and a luxury yacht because I don’t have any. Similarly, Sonia could not have given up something that was not within her reach. But she and tail-wagging Congress leaders sold the story, and media eminences bought it hook, line, and sinker.
The only support to the renunciation claim is the statement that the then president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, made later. In a book titled Turning Points, in 2012, he said that had Sonia Gandhi staked a claim herself he would have appointed her as it was the only “constitutionally tenable” option available to him. Kalam’s version has been disputed by, among others, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy, Sonia’s nemesis. But even if the veracity of Kalam’s statement is accepted, there was nothing official in 2004 that suggested that she was offered the top job that she sacrificed because her “inner voice” asked her to do so.
Yet, the entire media went mad about the ‘great sacrifice.’ Hindustan Times, which is sometimes little better than the grand old party’s mouthpiece, headlined it as ‘Amazing Grace.’ The Times of India depicted Sonia as Christ. “Indians love and respect no-one more than a renunciate,” wrote Siddharth Varadarajan in TOI. “Sonia Gandhi is not exactly giving up all the fruits of her actions during the election campaign but in a country and society which has come to valorize power more than anything else… letting go of the PM’s chair will be inevitably seen as an act of unparalleled sacrifice.”
Dileep Padgaonkar, the guy who fancied himself to be second most important man in the country (till Samir Jain put him in his place), was even more lyrical in his praise: “She will stand taller than the moral pygmies who have been baying for her blood.” Evidently, she was morality personified.
Sonia could not have given up something that was not within her reach.
Vir Sanghvi, that paragon of journalistic propriety, wrote in Hindustan Times that “at one stroke, she made the BJP look foolish and petty.” Such was her wisdom and magnanimity.
The Hindu, the absurdly named anti-Hindu and pro-Left newspaper, described Sonia’s shenanigan a “stunning act of self denial and political renunciation. Harish Khare, who later joined the government, wrote an article with the self-explanatory title, ‘Salute to Sonia,’ in this newspaper. “You have proven wrong all those critics who saw you as a power-hungry person. More than that, you have restored the faith of the people of this country in the nobility of politics and public service.” She was also the messiah.
Sonia Gandhi got fulsome praise—for a claim nobody bothered to verify. A journalist is taught to become a Doubting Thomas, to shed credulity, and embrace skepticism. But in May 2004, the high and mighty editors of our country forgot the basics and chose to become credulous; the claim of great sacrifice was made by the grand old party—and accepted as gospel truth.
Apart from credulity, there was also the self-imposed blindness of liberals and intellectuals—not much different from Western intellectuals’ blindness to the horrors of communism. In his Modern Times, the historian Paul Johnson wrote:
“The famine of 1932, the worst in Russian history, was virtually unreported. At the height of it, the visiting biologist Julian Huxley found ‘a level of physique and general health rather above that to be seen in England.’ Shaw threw his food supplies out of the train window just before crossing the Russian frontier ‘convinced that there were no shortages in Russia’…
“Estimates of Stalin written in the years 1929-34 make curious reading. H.G. Wells said he had ‘never met a man more candid, fair and honest . . . no one is afraid of him and everybody trusts him.’… He [Stalin] was, said the Chilean writer Pablo Neruda, ‘a good-natured man of principle’.”
All this about a man responsible for millions of deaths.
“Self-delusion was obviously the biggest single factor in the presentation of an unsuccessful despotism as a Utopia in the making,” wrote Johnson. “But there was also conscious deception by men and women who thought of themselves as idealists and who, at the time, honestly believed they were serving a higher human purpose by systematic misrepresentation and lying… Political activists felt they had to make terrible choices and, having made them, stick to them with desperate resolution. The Thirties was the age of the heroic lie. Saintly mendacity became its more prized virtue.”
An almost exact photocopy of that age of saintly lies began 10 years ago in India when Sonia began her inglorious rule. Top editors deified her. During the Emergency, journalists were asked to bow but they began to crawl, L.K. Advani once said. In 2004, no such demand was made, to the best of my knowledge and belief. There was no censorship, there were no power cuts in the areas with major media presence. Yet, our editors indulged in bootlicking.
This happens when the character is flawed and the mind is a trash bin of discredited ideas. In their heart of hearts, our liberals hate the BJP or, for that matter, anything that fundamentally challenges the Nehruvian Consensus. All of them are Nehruvians in varying degrees. They know that only the BJP has the potential to demolish the Congress system (it is another matter that the BJP has not even started the demolition process, even under Narendra Modi). It was never a secret that Sonia was authoritarian, that the grand old party was little more than a family concern, and that her policies were unclear, but in her they saw a leader who could possibly check the abomination called Hindutva. So, they ignored her and her party’s failings. They downplayed the resurrection of socialism and reversal of economic reforms. They tolerated the misdemeanours and misdeeds of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. For they only saw that she had defeated the BJP and so they believed her. Or, in the words of Johnson, “they needed to believe; they wanted to be duped.”
Thus began the 10-year-long nightmare for the world’s largest democracy. Embellished with heroic lies and saintly mendacity. The media can redeem itself by dispassionately analyzing the genesis of the renunciation myth.
Ravi Shanker Kapoor is a journalist and author. He upholds freedom of expression, individual liberty, free market, and open society. He is an uncompromising opponent of Islamism, communism, and other totalitarian ideologies. He is also a critic of intellectuals, as evident from his third book, How India’s Intellectuals Spread Lies (Vision Books).