Tuesday, January 27, 2015
What was all that highfalutin Congress campaign against The Red Sari, a so-called biography of Sonia Gandhi? Now that the book is available in India, anyone can see that it is a sympathetic glorification of Sonia and her family. It is likely, therefore, that the unofficial ban the Congress managed to impose on the book for seven years was a marketing manoeurve to boost sales. Author Javier Moro must be grateful to the Knight Superior of the Congress crusade, Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
Singhvi was right when he objected to "imaginary and invented conversations" in the book. In some editions, the book is actually described as "A novel". The Indian edition's subtitle is "A dramatised biography". Either way, it is largely a cooked-up job making the narrative thoroughly unreliable. But it is not defamatory, as Singhvi and company claim. It is in fact laudatory. Consider some of the declarations:
"Indira was deeply grateful for the stability that Sonia brought into her life..." Rajiv was "a good professional, a good worker, amiable, good-natured, indifferent to hierarchy, polite, docile, a decent student..." And Sonia, "a loving mother, very meticulous with her children's upbringing, prudent, hardworking, conscientious with an eye for detail..." Stuff like this is defamatory?
Even the imaginary and invented stuff is effusive. "When Rajiv took her hand as they were walking, Sonia had no strength to pull it back?" How did Moro know? Rajiv was attracted to Sonia because "she represented the anonymity of the middleclass; in other words, freedom, which is what a young man of twenty-one who had grown up in a gilded cage most desired". How did he know? Sonia's "legs trembled" as she met Indira Gandhi for the first time.... After the Allahabad judgment disqualified Indira. "Deep down, she would have liked her mother-in-law to resign because that was correct from a moral point of view". Oh, yeah? How did he know such deep-down morals?
If the Congress objected to the book in spite of all the adulatory imaginings of the author, one reason must be that it went against Sonia's exaggerated notions about her privacy. She is a public person and her right to privacy is subject to the overriding rights of the people. But Congressmen put Sonia above all else, hence their sensitiveness to any public references to her and her family.
Take the case of Steffano Maino, Sonia's father. He comes out as a model patriarch, devoted to his three daughters and determined to instill in them the best of Italian family values. But it is mentioned, inter alia, that he was a bricklayer who prospered enough to become a mason. That must have offended Congress sensibilities. Also offensive must have been the use of the term au pair in reference to Sonia. The author uses it in the most circumspect manner possible. ["Her parents] were not prepared for their daughter to be an au pair and live with just any family in any city. They chose Cambridge..." But the dictionary meaning of au pair is "a young foreign person, esp. a woman, helping with housework etc. in exchange for room, board and pocket money, esp. as a means of learning a foreign language". That was what Sonia did in Cambridge, though patriotic Congress attempts have been to emphasise that she "went to Cambridge to study".
Perhaps the biggest offence was the reference to Sonia wishing to return to Italy. The author quotes without hesitation: "One day, in desperation, Sonia told Rajiv: 'If you are thinking of going into politics, I'll ask for a separation and I'll go back to Italy' ". That was probably another "dramatised" bit by the author, although many sources have referred to Sonia wanting to go to Italy with the children when things were dangerously bad for Indira. Right or wrong, Congress leaders would tolerate no such reference as their primary article of faith is that Sonia is wholly Indian.
The book ends with Sonia's decision not to assume Prime Ministership when it was all hers to take. An epilogue updates the account to take in the 2014 rout of the Congress. Although the author records that the "young prince Rahul has failed to rise to the occasion", he sounds the gong for the family by saying that the Congress may well come back to power "under the aegis of another Gandhi -- perhaps Indira's only granddaughter, Priyanka".
No wonder the Congress conjured up the "ban" strategy to make the gullible, like me, read the book. Good money gone.