Sonia Gandhi: An Extraordinary Life…
Sonia Gandhi’s fascinating life from a small town to leading the majority party in the world’s largest democracy is a tale full of intrigue and mystery veiled by the seemingly simple veneer of time and place. For all those curious about the now leading lady of Indian politics the first mainstream biography of Sonia Gandhi has finally hit bookshops. Sonia Gandhi: An Extraordinary Life, An Indian Destiny by Rani Singh (Palgrave Macmillan) is an astute compilation of information through interviews with her colleagues, party members and people associated with Sonia Gandhi alongside the authors compelling narrative.
Known for her very insightful and meticulous investigative reports and documentaries on Indiaand Pakistan, author Rani Singh over the past 15 years has built a formidable reputation as journalist and documentarian. London based she has worked with BBC television and radio and has written for The Observer News Service, The Spectator and The Huffington Post among others. Here’s a quick one on one with Rani Singh about her book on Sonia Gandhi.
‘Rani Singh’s biography of Sonia Gandhi is an intimate and insightful portrait of an extraordinary woman… a compelling and important story of tragedy, family and a nation on an upward trajectory.’ - Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State
How and why did you land up writing Sonia Gandhi’s biography? Sonia Gandhi’s story represents the greatest transformational journey made by any world leader in the last four decades. She figures consistently on the power lists of the world’s most influential people. How did she make that journey from a small town in Northern Italy to being in charge of the coalition ruling the world’s biggest democracy? It is a story the international audience is keen to learn more about so when the publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, asked if I would be interested in writing it, I said yes.
What can we look forward to from the book? Revealing insights as to Sonia Gandhi’s personality, based on the evidence of those who have known her and worked with her – from members of her government, past and present, party colleagues, political opponents, and family friends. It is a story of destiny thrusting Sonia into tremendously difficult situations. I focussed on her responses to life’s challenges, and I hope that the reader will be left with a very strong understanding of her character, both private and professional. I researched heavily and conducted more than a hundred interviews to arrive at my final narrative.
The 3 things about Sonia Gandhi that you were surprised to know? Firstly, I was surprised to learn certain things about Sonia Gandhi’s schooling in the Salesian Convent. For example, she was streamed into an academic course of study as opposed to a more vocational one that her sister went on, according to the Salesian nuns. That has not been discussed before.
Secondly, when Rajiv Gandhi’s body was lying at Teen Murti House and mourners came to pay their respects, she had the presence of mind to remind Wajahat Habibullah, who had worked with Rajiv and had been his friend, that Rajiv had been concerned for Wajahat’s safety and had sent him his own bullet proof vest since he had been working in Kashmir. She was concerned enough to ask Wajahat if he was still using the vest for his own protection.
And finally, I was surprised to learn about a hand-made wind-up musical box that Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum and president of Soka Gakkai International, a branch of Buddists, gave to Sonia Gandhi when he visited her less than a year after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. It played tunes reflecting the key concepts of Soka Gakkai Buddhists with lyrics composed by Ikeda. She liked it and respected the care and skill that went into making it, according to a senior Soka Gakkai member present on that occasion. It later broke and could not be repaired in India as it had been hand-crafted. So when Mrs Gandhi travelled to Tokyo a few years later to open an exhibition, she took the musical box with her and it was immediately replaced by Dr Ikeda. The incident demonstrated her respect for an artisan-made object that was special for her._
By: Shahnaz Siganporia