Sonia Gandhi is probably the most enigmatic public personality today. Though she had been associated with the most visible political family of the country for more than 45 years now. And had been at the helm of the oldest and largest political party for more than 15 years, but not much is known about her. You only know what she chooses to let you know. An air of secrecy is maintained around her to the extent that she was out of India for 3 weeks for medical treatment and not a word about was spoken by anyone including the media.
Rani Singh is a BBC journalist. I assume she is of Indian origin but do not think she has ever lived in the country. She seems fairly disconnected from it. She writes a complete biography without meeting the subject of her biography. And she actually did not even meet her children or people in her close circle who are said to be a bit more accessible. Now here is what I think she has done. She collected all possible information about Sonia Gandhi that is in the public domain. She went through all the interviews she has ever given in any kind of media. Any pictures that were ever clicked of her and possibly sat through a couple of her public meetings.
It is a great effort to look at 60+ years of public domain information. And then flush out the story of one person. But I guess the information available was not enough. So she stuffed stories of her other family members and India in general to complete the story.
Now, there is nothing new that you would find about the lady that you did not know. Except maybe what flavor of drink she chose to have on a visit? Or what color was her husband’s swimwear or the holiday comparison of various holidays she took with her husband? Anything controversial is cleanly avoided e.g. the friends like Quattrocchi. No open questions about her have been even touched. Like why did she not take Indian citizenship till Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister? Why did Rahul take an assumed name for the jo?.
There is so much reverence that the author shows for Sonia Gandhi and her family that she can get derogatory to others. Like she calls Amar Singh bald and bespectacled, Mayawati coming from lowest caste and a fool to think she can become a prime minister. And BJP leaders as wrinkled old boys. Brinda Karat as straight out of miniature painting with her huge Bindi.
Showing her complete lack of understanding she translates Aam Aadmi as Mango Man with a visual image of the one carrying a mango basket on the head. A complete reverence to Mrs. Gandhi, a denial of any fault in her personality or in her decisions. No references to any controversies that surround her and her family. A lengthy sketch of Rahul Gandhi as the future leader make the book look like a PR exercise by the Congress than a biographical account of a person.
The initial part of this chronologically written book talks about a fairy tale style romance between Sonia and Rajiv. There is romance in Cambridge with her drop-dead looks and charismatic Rajiv, with a dramatic one-year of separation that her father forced on them. And her landing in a completely new land to marry him. Her initial years included adapting to the new land. Learning about the culture and managing the power-centered house for her mother-in-law. Till this point, the book is interestingly written. After that, a lot of focus has been given to the three tragic deaths in the family. Each death has been described so much in detail that you feel as if her life has been nothing but managing herself and her family during these tragic moments.
It would have been great if the author would have defined the happy moments in her life also with the same level of detail. Like the birth of her children and grandchildren and marriage of her daughter, most of which get a single line mention. I guess this may be because of the extent of details available in the public domain of these events. Even after she has taken the reins of the political party, all that comes in the book is from the public domain.
This is not an authorized biography thankfully. And I think Sonia Gandhi deserves a much better treatment and analysis for what she stands for today. Like her or not, in the present political scenario in the country, there is no way you can ignore her. You have to give it to her for transforming herself into a leader of strength from being an ordinary girl in Italy or later a domesticated woman in India. No doubt she had the advantage of being a close silent observer with two influential prime ministers of the country. But then she was not really prepared for this. There is also a play of destiny in her life that decides the course for her every now and then.
There is no doubt that the book is written for the foreign audience who has no clue about India and its leaders. And there is nothing that an Indian audience will get out of this book. I liked her title byline though: An Extraordinary Life, An Indian destiny.
Buy this book – Sonia Gandhi: An Extraordinary Life, An Indian Destiny on Amazon India.
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