July 25, 2020
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End Of The Longest Regency

Sonia Gandhi took the reins of the Congress amidst turmoil and uncertainty. On her way out now, a look at how she won power and ran the party all these years.

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End Of The Longest Regency
Photograph by Alamy
End Of The Longest Regency

1996 Congress lost the general elections, Narasimha Rao stepped down as party president. Sonia refused to interfere in the appointment of Rao’s successor. She was surprised when Sitaram Kesri replaced Rao. But it was the best possible stop-gap arrangement.

1997 Sonia took primary membership of the Congress at the Calcutta session. In her speech she said, “Our ideology of nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism is the only relevant ideology for our country”.

1998 Kesri was unceremoniously removed. Sonia became the party president. The biggest task before her was to keep the party united amidst many leaders’ threat to quit. Several Congress leaders persuaded her to campaign for the party and its revival.

1998 The Pachmarhi brainstorming session or Chintan Shivir was the most significant conclave which is often referred to even today. The party drafted a 14-point plan for Panchayati Raj and an 8-point plan for agriculture. A commitment to tackle communal forces was underlined especially in the context of the rising fortunes of the BJP. In the New Delhi session, in her presidential speech, Sonia said that revival of the Congress was ‘a national imperative’, offering power to the people through panchayats and power to the Congress worker through inner democracy in the party.

1999 Sonia consciously did not remove any sitting chief minister unlike in the past. In her first two years as party president, she removed only one CM out of 15. Orissa CM Janaki Ballabh Patnaik was the fall guy in the backdrop of the murder of Christian missionary Graham Staines. Sonia Gandhi was aware of power struggle going on behind her by leaders like Sharad Pawar and others who were nurturing their own future.

2004-2006 Soon, issues crept up, whether it was Arjun Singh’s OBC quota announcement in higher education or the Paul Volcker Report which made Natwar Singh quit as external affairs minister.

2004 The National Advisory Council was formed to advise the PM. Sonia as chairperson played a significant role in pushing social welfare schemes.

2005 She pushed the NREGA employment guarantee scheme, which was enacted and provided 100 days guaranteed employment to every Indian. It was one of the Congress’s biggest welfare schemes. The UPA government allocated nearly Rs 2 lakh crore to the scheme. It was renamed MNREGA in 2009 in memory of Mahatma Gandhi.

2006 Forests Right Act redressed. It sought to repair the injustice faced by forest dwellers by giving them greater control over resources.

2007 The National Rural Health Mission was launched. This was UPA’s commitment for quality health care for every citizen of the country. 

2007 Sonia Gandhi and Archbishop Desmond Tutu called upon the UN to adopt October 2 as the international day of non-violence. This was following the Satyagraha Conference resolution in Delhi.

2009 The Congress led UPA, under Sonia Gandhi, won a landmark 262 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress emerged as the single largest party with 206 seats and Manmohan Singh became PM for a second term. But soon the scams, 2G and coal, also began coming to the fore.

2013 As part of the government’s larger agenda, Sonia Gandhi steered the Food Security Act. Through parliament enactment, it provides subsidised food grains for nearly 64 per cent of the population.

2013 Rahul Gandhi was appointed as the Congress vice-president at the Jaipur Chintan Shivir. It was a clear signal to the party’s rank and file that the baton will be handed over to Rahul at an appropriate time.

2014 The Congress’ fortunes crashed in the Lok Sabha election with the emergence of BJP candidate Narendra Modi as PM. The Congress won a meagre 44 seats and lost the ‘Leader of Opposition’ post in the Lok Sabha since it couldn’t even garner 10 per cent strength of the House.

Dec 2017 Sonia Gandhi to step down as party president

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