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'The Italian woman's revenge'

May 14, 2004 21:38 IST
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'India shifts course.'

So declared a New York Times editorial May 14, echoing the American media reaction to the victory of Sonia Gandhi' Congress Party in India.

The main concern seems to be reforms.

'If, as now seems likely, Congress leads the next government, it should press ahead with market reforms while broadening their benefits,' it said.

"Bond, stock and currency investors were taken aback by one of the biggest political upsets since India's independence almost 60 years ago," said Bloomberg columnist William Pesek Jr.

"The 57-year-old Gandhi's late husband and mother-in- law were both Indian prime ministers who were killed by assassins. She is an Italian-born Catholic, and she'll now be running the world's biggest Hindu nation. She'll also rule the world's biggest democracy with the support of Communist parties," says Pesek.

However, he goes on to argue that 'There's reason to think investors need not worry too much. If India's disparate political parties agree on anything it's the need for economic reform. China's boom leaves officials in New Delhi little choice in the matter."

"Bad for the credibility of almost every pundit and pollster; bad for political stability; even perhaps bad for economic reform. But the outcome of India's election has been a triumph for democracy," says the Economist.

"The prospect of a period of political jockeying and potential instability may worry investors, who also fear that the election will be taken as a popular rejection of the liberalising reforms of the Indian economy, recently championed by the BJP," it said.

In Canada, however, a glowing editorial in Toronto's Globe and Mail  said "India's latest election has shown once again that for all its problems, the world's biggest democracy is vibrantly alive and well."

 Across the Atlantic, however, there was more interest in Sonia as a person.

"The dynasty continues,"  said a leader in The Guardian.

"The result came as a complete surprise to everyone but the people who matter in an Indian election," it said.

"Not online India, the India of software developers, the India that produces 2 million graduates a year, the India with a runaway economy widely predicted to become a global power in the 21st century. But its rural poor, its illiterates, the villagers who live without electricity in mud and thatch houses, those who have to walk two miles to fetch water, some 300 million people in all, or twice the population of Russia. It is as if Marie Antoinette had risen from the dead and told them to eat cake." 

'More than a billion Indians were pondering the same question yesterday: how does the Catholic daughter of an Italian building contractor find herself on the threshold of becoming their prime minister?' said The Telegraph in an article headlined From Italian wife to reluctant prime minister

It then went on to trace "The story of Sonia Gandhi's extraordinary journey from her birthplace, Orbassano in northern Italy, to India's seat of power.."

In Italy, newspapers were more concerned over the developments in Iraq, but the papers that did cover it described it as a win for an "Italian."

In France, while the daily Liberation headlined it as "An Italian in a sari",  Le Figaro described it as the "Italian woman's revenge."

"Despite the unceasing attacks from the Hindu nationalists over her Italian origin, Sonia Gandhi has accomplished what seemed an impossible feat," it said.

The Congress Party won "against all expectations"  and even Sonia Gandhi's "closest associates doubted the ability of 'Sonia the Italian' to defeat the nationalist camp".

"Gandhi's 'Made in Italy' label not an issue," declared the Independent Online, South Africa. 

"India's watershed election has finally laid to rest a long-running debate about whether Sonia Gandhi's foreign birth disqualified her from ruling the world's largest democracy as head of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty . Voters ignored a sometimes insulting and personal campaign by her opponents against her Italian birth and gave Gandhi a clear mandate on Thursday, throwing out the Hindu nationalist-led coalition that had argued strongly she was was unfit to rule," it said.

Among India's neighbours, Pakistan's media worried  that the defeat may inspire the BJP to return to its pro-Hindutva agenda.

In Bangladesh, the media quoted Foreign Minister Morshed Khan as saying that Bangladesh will work together with whoever hold power in New Delhi. "We'd worked with Congress for many years since this party had been in power for long in last 50 years. We know them and they know us," he said.

China's official news agency Xinhua argued that "The entry of her (Sonia's) charismatic children, son Rahul and daughter Priyanka, helped her party's fortunes, as millions of young voters liked to stand by the side of 30-something Rahul and Priyanka instead of 79-year-old Vajpayee.

However, "Analysts believe policies will have to be adapted by the new government to take in their concerns, but the key foreign policy issue, trying to pursue a roadmap for peace with nuclear rival Pakistan, would not be affected" it said.


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