NEW DELHI, India – Sonia Gandhi was unanimously re-elected as parliamentary leader of her Congress Party today, moving the Italian-born politician closer to making history as the first person of foreign origin to serve as prime minister of the world’s largest democracy.
Following the vote, Gandhi immediately took aim at Hindu nationalists who have called her a foreigner unfit to govern India. She said that the nation’s voters had rejected such arguments when she and her party’s allies won a surprise victory Thursday over Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the National Democratic Alliance, which is led by his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Gandhi, the widow of assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, said Indian voters turned against Vajpayee and his allies because of failed policies as well as personal attacks.
During the election campaign, some of Vajpayee’s leading supporters argued that Gandhi, an Indian citizen, shouldn’t be prime minister because she wasn’t born here.
But Indian voters, she said, “decisively rejected the politics of arrogance, of personal attacks and negative campaigning.”
If Gandhi becomes prime minister as expected, continuing friction with Hindu nationalists could affect one of the most pressing matters on the new government’s agenda: landmark peace talks with Pakistan.
Pressure from Hindu hard-liners may make it more difficult for her to agree to, and then sell to India’s people, the concessions that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf seeks in order to resolve the almost 57-year conflict over the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
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