Undoubtedly, one of the most controversial & mysterious politicians of recent times has been none other than the President of Congress party: Sonia Gandhi.
I still remember that Sunday afternoon near Cubbon Park in Bangalore when MG road was blocked for VIP movement. After being stranded for almost 45 mins, we finally got a glimpse of the most revered family of Indian politics. It was Rajiv Gandhi & Sonia Gandhi in an open jeep, waving at the crowd. Sonia Gandhi was like a British Queen, but despite putting up a happy face, her discomfort due to the sunny weather was clearly evident. I overheard a conversation in which an auto driver asked another driver if she was a descendent of a royal family. The reply was mysterious because he just replied that she was an Italian, but could not produce more details beyond it.
It has been a mystery since then, and later as Sonia Gandhi entered active politics to emerge with flying colors, the mystery further deepened. A few weeks ago when Indian media was making noises over a controversial book about Sonia Gandhi, curiosity got the better of me. Thanks to Kindle, the book (eBook) was just a click away.
Within the first few pages of the book, I realized why Congress was adamant on banning the book. The simple reason being that Congress had carefully isolated Sonia’s personal life & her history from public, instead nurturing her image as a woman from a pretty well-off family, which is contrary to what the book narrates.
Also, the book might answer many mysterious questions of the present scenario, the roots to which can be traced back to Sonia’s childhood. For example, there has been lots of news these days about crackdown on foreign NGOs, most of which are basically Christian missionaries who have been actively converting millions especially in the last 10 years.
How could thousands of missionaries gain inroads into India last decade unless there was support & encouragement from leaders at the top? One reason might be that Sonia Gandhi has always had some soft corner towards missionaries and their activities. This can be traced back to her childhood days, as narrated in the book in its initial chapters.
The narration not only gives a glimpse into the life of Sonia, but helps the reader understand the prevailing political condition during 1970s, 80s & 90s from the perspective of Gandhi family. While most of the political anecdotes described in this book have been available in public domain as well for quiet some time, it is the aspects from the personal life of Indira, Firoz, Sanjay, Sonia & Rajiv which makes the content exclusive & makes the book sensational to some extent.
Although the author has been sympathetic towards the Gandhi family in most part, he has no qualms in narrating events which highlights the contrast between Indira Gandhi (who believed in astrology) & Jawaharlal Nehru (who promoted scientific temper).
A significant part of the book deals with the hostile relationship Sonia had developed with people around her, including Maneka Gandhi, who was eventually driven out of the house by Indira Gandhi.
Also, another startling revelation from this book is that contrary to the popular belief, Sonia had not isolated herself from politics after Rajiv death and had in fact taken up much more active role in politics than ever before. It was during this time she developed a network of trusted aides including Dr Manmohan Singh.
The book concludes with the victory of Congress in 2004 and surprisingly does not go into much details of why she sacrificed the PM post, except for the widely stated reason of “inner voice”. However, there are sufficient hints in this book which suggests that it was Rahul & Priyanka who had played crucial role in that decision, to prioritize safety over politics. The same has been mentioned in another controversial book recently authored by Natwar Singh as well.
Overall, this is a gripping read, providing a peek into the lives of Sonia, Rajiv & Indira (For a more detailed account of Indira, you can consider checking the book by Katherine Frank as well), along with several anecdotes sprinkled throughout the narrative which might not go down well with staunch Congress supporters. Although I had braced myself for some gossip-styled narrative, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the author has taken great pains to research on this subject and has presented it in a convincing package in the form of a personal+political biography which might not only answer some mysterious questions but also enrich the reader’s understanding of the prevailing political conditions.