Sonia Gandhi (An Extraordinary Life, an Indian Destiny) by Rani Singh is a biography of another regal personality who, like it or not, happens to dominate the Indian political scene and therefore has a bearing on this nation’s fortunes.
It may irk some readers, but Sonia Gandhi, born Edvige Antonia Albina Maino, in the small little Italian town of Lusiana, is dignity personified. And though London-based Rani Singh seems besotted by her and all things Gandhi, it would be difficult to contradict the fact that Sonia acquitted herself most honourably after this nation suddenly found itself allergic to ‘foreign’ rule on being confronted with the prospect of her ascension to power as India’s prime minister.
Even as Congress party men and admirers stridently lobbied for her, she refused, stating, “Look, I want the nation to progress. I want things to stabilize. I want communal forces to lose. I do not want the BJP to harp on an agenda of the foreign origins of the prime minister; I want them to discuss developmental issues.”
With one quiet thrust, Sonia confounded her critics and silenced her fiercest opponents. One of her very vocal detractors and leader of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj too had to tone down her utterances, and admit that she did not see Sonia as a challenge, noting that the latter had ‘defined her role for herself as the guide and mentor of the Congress party and chairperson of the UPA.’
Dileep Padgaonkar, consulting editor of the Times of India describes Sonia as ‘the great renouncer’ saying, “When you give up power, wealth, prestige, this endears you to the people of this country more than anything else. One value that Indians cherish most is the value of renunciation.”
Rani writes about Sonia’s childhood and of her moving to England to study, where she bumped into Rajiv Gandhi, her transformation from an Italian girl into an Indian woman. Marriage brought her straight into Indian politics, with Indira Gandhi as a mother-in-law! Rani explores the uneasy relationship with Maneka, the other bahu, the death of Sanjay Gandhi, followed by the trauma of losing Indira Gandhi to Sikh assassins. The shocking death of Rajiv Gandhi saw Sonia stoically surface from all her tragedies, her two children standing steadfast alongside. Like it or not, it is a good, warm Indian story.
Sonia Gandhi by Rani Singh
Pan Macmillan India