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The Sonia myth - The Afternoon Despatch & Courier

Tavleen Singh ()
June 1, 1998

Title: The Sonia myth
Author: Tavleen Singh
Publication: The Afternoon Despatch & Courier
Date: June 1, 1998

How much is Sonia Gandhi a real figure and how much a myth
created by the media? This is a question that comes to my mind
every time I see an interaction between her and Delhi's political
journalists. The most recent one was last week when a gathering
was arranged at he parliament house annexe. I was not there
personally but from what I saw of the event on television it was
clear that the country's most hardened hacks fell over themselves
trying to get close to Madame much as if she were a movie star.

No questions, please, no questions, no questions, no television
cameras her flustered flunkeys yelled but they need not have
worried because when the questions did come they were so mild
that any child could have answered them. Did she think the BJP
would get, some political advantage out of the nuclear tests? A
little. Did she think the security threat perception in the
region had heightened? No. Did she think the government was
speaking in different voices? Yes.

Pretty much the same sort of friendly questions emanated from the
last time Sonia had a tea party for journalists. Instead of
reporters, editors themselves rolled up in droves and you would
have thought there would have been one, itsy-bitsy, little
question on. For instance, her friendship with Ottavio
Quattrochi, but no what we got were only the simplest, little
questions that she could smile and nod at or answer in her usual
monosyllabic style.

During the election campaign, as I have pointed out before in
this column, she refused to give a single interview. A tactic
usually considered so unacceptable that the Delhi press would
have, had it been another party leader, boycotted the party. But,
not with Madame. In her case the press fawned over her every
statement. Gushing over her 'fluent' Hindi, her setting the
agenda, her touching a chord.

The truth is that she does not speak fluent Hindi. She reads it,
>from a script written in Roman, and often she stumbles over the
words and gets the intonation all wrong as she did when she read
out her party's political broadcast on television. But, did we
read one word of criticism in the national press? No. Did any
political journalist even bother to mention, for instance, that
while 'setting the agenda' when she demanded the release of the
Bofors papers she was doing it only because she knows that if
they are made public then the Swiss government will refuse to
give us the second batch of papers. The first lot were handed
over to the Indian government on the condition that they be used
only in a court of law. Did anyone question her little fib about
Rajiv telling her that he would have stood in front of the Babri
Masjid rather than let it be demolished? Please remember that
before he died there was really no question of the mosque being
demolished. In fact, so removed was this idea from anyone's
mind' that Narasimha Rao did not hesitate to let the so-called
kar sewaks within breaking distance in December 1992. Since the
event destroyed his political career surely he would have stopped
the demolition if he had the slightest inkling?

The making of the Sonia myth is something that Delhi's political
press has been assiduously involved in right from the time of
Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. It began with everyone colluding to
create the impression that she was not at all interested in
politics and that she was being forced into it by unscrupulous
politicians like Arjun Singh. Oh really?

Think about it. Would someone who was that disinterested in
politics spend nearly her entire day meeting only politicians and
listening carefully to their grievances. Would someone who was
that disinterested in public life make it a point to have
television cameras ready in her house every time some visiting
foreign dignitary called on her?

Even when she became a member of the Congress party and started
making speeches at Congress event, the press persisted with the
myth that she was not interested. Then, when she announced that
she was actually going to campaign for the party the myth
acquired a new dimension. She is only doing this, everyone said,
because she wants to help the Congress party in its time of
difficulty She helped perpetrate the myth by saying, in her brief
interview to STAR TV, that she was not interested in changing the
Congress president.

When, after the elections were over, she decided that she was
going to be not just Congress president but leader of its
parliamentary party as well a new aspect of the myth was born.
Now what you hear in political pundit circles in Delhi is that
she has absolutely no interest in becoming prime minister. She is
only trying- to help the party, we continue to heal, and yes she
may be trying to keep the 'legacy' intact for one of her children
but, so what, there is nothing wrong with that. Undoubtedly, if
she does become prime minister, this will be considered yet
another 'sacrifice' for a country that, 'despite her supposedly
passionate love for it, she chose not to become a citizen of
until her husband was on the verge of becoming prime minister.

Sonia Gandhi has so far not said anything, not one single, little
thing, that indicates that she has even the slightest
comprehension of political or economic issues. Yet, because
Delhi's political press has decided to behave like a pussycat,
she has managed to get portrayed to the general public as a
worthy leader of India's oldest political party. This is not just
worrying, it is positively frightening.

How can we have a prospective leader of India who has never
expressed herself clearly on any major issue? It is simply not
good enough for her to mouth banalities on secularism, socialism
and now the nuclear bomb. On the bomb, we still do not know what
she really thinks. She began by saying that she was proud of
India. When Sharad Pawar said something similar, though, we hear
that he was ticked off for talking too much. Then, Madame herself
announced that she had doubts about the tests and the
government's intentions but, nevertheless, we must remember that
this was a proud achievement for Congress because was it her
late, lamented mother-in-law and role model, who exploded the
first device in 1974. As usual there is more confusion than
opinion in what she says but you would not known it from reading
the national press.

If the Congress party wants an apolitical Italian housewife as
its leader then that is their business. But, it really is about
time that the Delhi press, so proud of its hard talking
reputation, starting demanding that she answer at least the
minimum questions that any aspiring leader of India has to.

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