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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 May, 2004, 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK
Indian press lauds Gandhi decision
Wednesday's papers from India
Sonia in politics 'out of a sense of duty... not ambition'
Newspapers across India have lauded Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi's decision not to accept the position of the prime minister.

The general view is that the move is in the Indian tradition of renunciation and that she has emerged with more stature.

Newspapers also attack the campaign of the defeated Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against Mrs Gandhi's foreign origins, one of the reasons thought to be behind her decision to opt out.

Most of the newspapers gave the thumbs up to Mrs Gandhi for deciding not to accept the position of the prime minister.

Amazing Grace was the headline verdict of the Hindustan Times.

The Asian Age chimed in with Sonia Switch Turns Off Power, Turns on Hearts.

Renouncing power, going for glory, was the opinion voiced in a front-page story in the Times of India.

'Standing tall'

Most newspapers said Mrs Gandhi's decision was in the "true Indian tradition" of renunciation.

The Times of India's depiction of Sonia Gandhi as Christ
The Times of India evoking Christian imagery of self-sacrifice

"Indians love and respect no-one more than a renunciate," wrote analyst Siddharth Varadarajan in the Times of India.

"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 valorise power more than anything else... letting go of the PM's chair will be inevitably seen as an act of unparalleled sacrifice."

"She will stand taller than the moral pygmies who have been baying for her blood," wrote analyst Dileep Padgaonkar in the same newspaper.

Most of the newspapers said by declining the prime minister's post, Mrs Gandhi had taken the high moral ground and put her rivals on the back foot.

"By choosing to 'humbly decline', she has played a masterstroke," said The Indian Express.

"For one, it allows her to assume the high moral ground and signal that she was by no means enamoured of power for its own sake, but power for the principles she believes in.

"She has thus neatly disarmed her political opponents of the one weapon they had hoped to use against her."

Writing in Hindustan Times, analyst Vir Sanghvi said that "at one stroke, she made the BJP look foolish and petty."

'Stunning act'

She was a reluctant politician. She was in it out of a sense of duty, not because of ambition
Analyst Vir Sanghvi,Hindustan Times
The Times of India agreed: "The BJP, which fought and lost an essentially racist campaign and then thumbed it nose at Indian democracy by starting a xenophobic offensive against Sonia becoming PM... will find it hard to recover from this coup de grace."

The Hindu, which described Mrs Gandhi's decision a "stunning act of self denial and political renunciation", said she had "grown enormously in political and moral stature" after Tuesday.

"You have proven wrong all those critics who saw you as a power-hungry person," wrote the newspaper's commentator Harish Khare in an article 'Salute to Sonia'.

"More than that, you have restored the faith of the people of this country in the nobility of politics and public service."

The newspapers also speculate on the reasons behind Mrs Gandhi's surprising decision.

"She was a reluctant politician. She was in it out of a sense of duty, not because of ambition," wrote Vir Sanghvi in Hindustan Times.

"And on Tuesday, she showed us that it was the battle that was important. Not the prize."

The Hindustan Times reported that there was pressure on Mrs Gandhi to decline the position from within her family.

"The pressure on Sonia was much more from within her family... her children worried about the possible threat to her from the fanaticism sought to be unleashed by the saffron parivar (the Hindu nationalist forces) campaign," the paper said.

In an editorial The Economic Times said: "The vicious and partisan campaign against her by the BJP may have made her decide against becoming the PM. If so it is a sad day for Indian democracy."

There were a few critical points in a day when most of the newspapers lauded Mrs Gandhi's decision.

"It is hard to escape the feeling that she has messed up the timing of her announcement. She should have declared that this was her stand right when the results came in," Hindustan Times says.

Other newspapers felt that the scenes at the Congress party meeting on Tuesday were reminiscent of the "vintage" political sycophancy.

Congress MPs "begged, pleaded, cajoled and sobbed that she stay on and lead them, they breathed fire and brimstone against her political opponents - the scene was vintage Congress sycophancy," said The Indian Express.

The newspapers were full of photographs of scenes of hysteria outside Mrs Gandhi Delhi home on Tuesday where Congress party workers protested against her decision.

There were also photographs of a pensive looking Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi holding hands during the emotional party meeting when their mother announced that she was not taking up the PM's post.

The Economic Times morphed a stock market index over the picture, captioning: "Holding On: When Blue Chips Are Down."

India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

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