It was something of a public relations coup for the Congress, when party president Sonia Gandhi, in a surprise appearance, joined revellers on the streets of the national capital a little after midnight on Saturday to celebrate India's magnificent World Cup victory. She was quite clearly in sync with the public mood.
Cheering cricket fans crowding Bahadurshah Zafar Marg couldn't believe their eyes when they spotted Ms. Gandhi, beaming and waving at them excitedly from her Tata Safari. Traffic came to a standstill and people surged up to her to shake hands, as she shouted out: “Congratulations to everybody. We have won!” And, surprisingly, the usually oppressive security that rings her was absent.
Ms. Gandhi has, as party colleagues stress, been known to break protocol and reach out spontaneously to people. But this has usually been when she has been out campaigning — as she did during her Jansampark yatras — or when she when visiting the victims of a calamity. “Spontaneity is very much a part of her make up,” Union Information Minister Ambika Soni tells The Hindu. “I have seen her during the Jansampark yatras reaching out, shaking hands with people, giving the security a scare. But this is also what recharges her batteries and gives her the energy to work for the people.”
But choosing the World Cup victory for a public appearance, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh says on the telephone from Assam, “shows that she has inculcated the sense of being part and parcel of this nation completely. She looked more excited than when we formed the government! She totally reflected the people's mood in the country.”
Spontaneity is a word that crops up again in party's media chairman Janardan Dwivedi description: “This must be the spontaneous reflection of her inner feelings on India winning the World Cup.” Ms. Gandhi was, of course, also captured on film, cheering when India defeated Pakistan in the World Cup semi finals at Mohali last Wednesday, and last year when she was witness to India's sporting triumphs during the Commonwealth Games.
For senior party leaders who have accompanied Ms. Gandhi on her travels, her capacity to reach out, mingle and identify with ordinary people is not surprising. It is just that in Delhi it is very rare — the most she has been known to do is to come up to the barrier outside her 10 Janpath residence.
“But yesterday,” Ms. Soni points out, “she let her inner instincts decide her course of action; she identified herself with more than a billion people watching cricket on wayside screens across the nation, not just those watching the game from VIP boxes in Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium. And the newspaper reports suggest it was very much appreciated. She was thrilled with the Indian victory and she wanted to share her joy.”
Party colleagues said they had no idea that Ms. Gandhi would venture out on the streets.
But whatever the case, instinctive or planned, Ms. Gandhi's gesture worked because it had an element of spontaneity in it.
Given the bad news the party and the government has been dealing with in the last few months — from corruption to food inflation — Ms. Gandhi's identifying with a moment of total national joy on Saturday night demonstrated that when the occasion demands, her instincts are very sure. Just as it was when she renounced the Prime Ministership offer in 2004.