NEW DELHI: The first phase of voting for Gujarat assembly election took place on Thursday without Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) chairperson Sonia Gandhi campaigning even for a single day. She is unlikely to canvass in favour of her party candidates in the remaining three days of campaigning before the state goes for the second phase of polling on December 5.
Sonia, who was the Congress president for the longest time in the history of the 136-year-old political party, did not campaign in Himachal Pradesh either. Voting took place in the hilly state on November 12.
Her name found mention on the second spot in the list of the Congress’s star campaigners for both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat – the first being that of party president Mallikarjun Kharge who succeeded her to the post on October 26.
When she was the Congress president, her name was on the top of the star campaigners for all the elections held earlier. However, she has not addressed an election rally in the last five-six years.
A senior Congress functionary told TOI on the condition of anonymity that Sonia has stopped addressing public meetings, particularly the election rallies.
She did not address any election rally in the 2019 Lok Sabha election either. On April 11, 2019, she only addressed the media persons after filing nomination papers from her constituency in Raebareli.
Asked the reason behind the party including her name in the list of star campaigners, the Congress leader said, “Her name is added every time because of a protocol. And the party leaves the choice to her to address the election rallies or not.”
In fact, the last public rally which she addressed was almost three years ago on December 14, 2019, at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi. It was the ‘Bharat Bachao (Save India) Rally’ organised by her party.
Earlier, Sonia addressed as many as three rallies in May 2016.
On May 21, 2016, she addressed the ‘Hum Mein Hain Rajiv (Gandhi)’ rally in Delhi on the 25th death anniversary of her husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
On May 10, 2016, Sonia addressed a rally in Thiruvananthapuram, hitting out at those who called her a “foreigner”. She said, “Yes, I was born in Italy. I came to India in 1968 as the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi. I have spent 48 years of my life in India. This is my home. This is my country. For all of my 48 years here, the RSS, BJP and other parties taunted me to shame me for my birth.”
This statement was in part a response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, in an election rally, had made some remarks against the then Congress president.
Sonia had said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi, you can continue attacking my integrity but you cannot challenge my commitment and love to the country. I cannot expect Prime Minister Narendra Modi to understand my feelings, but I am sure the people of the country can ... It is here in this country in India that the blood of my loved ones is mingled. My beloved's blood was shed here. It is here that I will breathe my last. It is here my ashes will mingle with those of my loved ones."
On May 6, 2016, Sonia addressed the Loktantra Bachao (Save Democracy) Rally in Delhi along with former PM Manmohan Singh before courting arrest.
Sonia, who will turn 76 on December 9, has not been keeping well. The first time when she faced a health issue during a political event was on August 2, 2016, after landing at Varanasi airport to launch the Congress's campaign for the 2017 UP assembly election.
She was supposed to visit the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and deliver a public speech. However, she fell ill soon after reaching Varanasi and had to be airlifted and admitted to a hospital in Delhi the same day.
Some Congress leaders attribute Sonia’s missing in action from public rallies to her health issues. However, this is ruled out because she has been active elsewhere. For instance, she regularly takes part in the Parliament sessions.
As an MP from Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh, she raises matters of urgent attention in the Lok Sabha. She also addresses her party MPs as CPP chairperson during Parliament sessions.
Sonia also travels outside Delhi for personal and party-related works. She addressed her party leaders twice at 'Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir' in Udaipur on May 13 and May 15.
She travelled to Italy earlier this year to meet her mother who later passed away.
Her most recent address was on November 19 at the Indira Gandhi Award Ceremony at Jawahar Bhawan in Delhi as chairperson of Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust.
Sonia was also questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for several hours over three days in July in a money laundering case related to the National Herald newspaper.
Retiring from active politics?
A senior Congress leader said Sonia is slowly withdrawing herself from active politics. This may be a conscious decision to promote her children Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
On December 15, 2017, a day before Rahul Gandhi succeeded her as the Congress president, Sonia had indicated that she was on the verge of retiring from politics. Asked about her future role, she had said, "My role is now to retire."
It led to confusion. Congress MP Randeep Surjewala posted a tweet to clarify that Sonia had retired as the president of the Congress and not from politics.
Sonia’s gradual withdrawal from active politics is obvious now. She has stopped addressing election rallies. She has restricted herself to limited political events.
Rahul campaigned in Gujarat for a day after taking a break from his Kanyakumari to Kashmir 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' underway since September 7. He addressed two rallies in Surat and Rajkot on November 21. He did not visit Himachal Pradesh even once though his sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra addressed election rallies on three days in October and November.