Gandhi quits Indian post

March 24, 2006|By HENRY CHU | HENRY CHU,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW DELHI -- Sonia Gandhi, head of India's ruling party, resigned from parliament yesterday to defuse a growing controversy over whether she illegally held two political posts at once.

However, the country's most powerful woman said she would run again in the by-election for her seat, a contest she is almost certain to win and that would return her to the Lok Sabha, or lower house, within six months.

Gandhi, 59, announced she was quitting parliament and her position on the government's National Advisory Council after opposition politicians accused her of violating a decades-old law forbidding legislators from holding other jobs offering pay or perks. Her chairmanship of the advisory panel was deemed such a post.

"I have done this because I think it is the right thing to do," Gandhi told reporters outside her home near the parliament building. She said the decision to step down was in keeping with her "standards of public morality and personal values," adding that she expected her constituents in rural northern India, and the rest of the country, to understand her wishes.

She will remain leader of the Congress Party, which has governed India through a coalition since 2004. Widow and daughter-in-law of assassinated prime ministers, Gandhi is widely believed to be the real power behind the current premier, Manmohan Singh, and her influence, as well as the overall political landscape, is likely to remain relatively unchanged despite her surprise announcement.

By giving up her seat, at least temporarily, Gandhi appears to be trying to claim the moral high ground and to neutralize accusations of unseemly attempts by supporters to keep her in office. Wednesday, the government abruptly adjourned parliament and was reportedly considering introducing a rule change that would allow Gandhi to hold her parliament seat and advisory council post.

"For the last two days, some people in the country were trying to create an impression that parliament was being misused for my benefit," Gandhi said. "This has hurt me."

Opponents criticized her resignation as a grandstanding maneuver by a cornered politician.

Henry Chu writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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