Sushma-Sonia equation at play with PM Modi’s nod amid national crisis
analysis Updated: Sep 30, 2016 14:34 IST
The Indian military action that neutralised seven terrorist launchpads across the Line of Control (LoC) also set the stage for a thaw in the frosty relations between the Narendra Modi regime and the top leadership of the Congress.
The government reached out and the principal Opposition rose to the occasion.
Leading the ruling party’s initiative was external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. She turned up late at the all-party meeting on Thursday as she had taken time out for a call on Sonia Gandhi. The two leaders were together for nearly 15 minutes. The Minister inquired about the Congress president’s health before briefing her on the army operation across the LoC.
The meeting happened when Sonia responded promptly to Swaraj’s request. The minister found it apt to call on the Congress leader as she was recuperating from an ailment and was unable to attend the government-convened all-party conference on the military operation.
Sources privy to the conversation said Swaraj inquired about Sonia’s health as they were face-to-face for the first time after she fell ill in August during a road show in Varanasi, the constituency the Prime Minister represents in the Lok Sabha. She underwent a surgery later.
That the meeting had Modi’s consent became evident when Swaraj asked Sonia if she had any message for the PM. While she engaged directly with the Congress president, the minister deputed foreign secretary Jaishankar to call on former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to update him separately on the cross LoC action. The move was in line with protocol requirements and the time-honoured tradition of taking on board the principal Opposition for a united national response to a challenging situation.
Sonia reciprocated to Swaraj’s gesture by receiving her at the doorsteps of her 10 Janpath residence. She walked the minister up to her car after the meeting.
The two leaders have had their share of intense political rivalries. Sonia defeated Swaraj in the 1999 Bellary Lok Sabha election while the BJP leader famously threatened in 2004 that she would shave her head and launch a Quit India-2 movement if the Congress chief became PM in the UPA regime.
But in recent years they’ve had convivial relations. Certain observers rate them as good friends whose conversations move beyond politics to family issues. In fact, as Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha in 2010, Swaraj become the first BJP heavyweight to join the Gandhis at a prayer meeting on Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary. She walked to his samadhi, Veer Bhumi, as her vehicle had to be parked some distance away for security reasons.
In April this year, Rahul Gandhi called on Swaraj when she was under treatment at AIIMS. In another display of social courtesy amid a bitterly divided polity, Sonia had gotten on the phone with Arun Jaitley’s wife Sangeeta when the finance minister was hospitalised in 2014. Later, she also spoke to Jaitley on phone to inquire about his health.
When Parliament came under attack in 2001, Sonia wasn’t in the House. On hearing of it, she promptly called then PM AB Vajpayee to inquire about his well-being. Despite their uneasy relations, Modi had similarly responded on getting to know of Sonia’s indisposition in Varanasi. In a call to former Delhi CM Shiela Dikshit who was accompanying the Congress chief, he offered to send doctors with a special plane to transport her back to Delhi.