"Resigning actually allows Sonia to restore her image of being above the dirty fray of politics and uninterested in power," says TIME New Delhi correspondent Maseeh Rahman, who points out that even the rebels who'd challenged her credentials as a prime minister want her to continue as party leader. "That image," adds Rahman, "had suffered a setback recently when she'd helped bring down the BJP government and was then unable to form a new one." In fact, says Rahman, "she's really angry and may agree only to campaign for Congress but not accept nomination for prime minister." That, of course, would allow her to serve as the party's kingmaker without muddying her sari in the rough-and-tumble of India's governance. And if she does agree to return, Congress will have had an opportunity to test public reaction to the BJP's most damaging line of attack without the outcome of an election being at stake.
Talk about spin doctors. The furor in India's Congress party over the foreign origins of its leader, Sonia Gandhi, may yet turn out to be an elaborate form of political inoculation. Mrs. Gandhi resigned as party leader Monday, after three senior leaders wrote a letter insisting that no foreign-born person should be allowed to be in charge of India. The action came after Congress's fiercest rival, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), made clear that it planned to make Mrs. Gandhi's Italian birth the centerpiece of its campaign in an election bereft of policy issues. Congress had focused much of its campaigning around Gandhi, using the almost mythical allure of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty (she's the widow of assassinated prime minister Rajiv Gandhi) to rally an electorate made cynical by years of corruption scandals and petty politicking. By Tuesday she hadn't backed down, despite the exhortations of Congress leaders and thousands of demonstrators to reconsider.