Tag Archive for 'Sonia Gandhi'

The Sanjay Gandhi story

Vinod Mehta on Sanjay Gandhi. In Outlook:

While Sanjay and Indira were fighting legal battles in court, at home the two brothers and the two wives were barely on speaking terms. Relations between Rajiv and Sanjay were always “chilly” and between Sonia and Maneka “frigid”. Indira Gandhi sought to remain neutral, desperately trying to maintain some semblance of family peace. One morning, B.K. Nehru and his wife Flori were breakfasting with the Gandhis. “Sanjay went into a rage and threw his plate across the room when Sonia failed to cook his eggs in the precise way he had ordered.” Indira did not say a word to Sanjay.

In January 1980, Indira Gandhi won back power from the Janata clowns, who gifted her the prime minister’s chair meekly. Morarji Desai led the strange cocktail which had dethroned Indira. Instead of concentrating on governance, they set out to ‘punish’ their nemesis by hook or by crook. This publicly stated goal was combined with vicious infighting. It would be fair to say the Janata leaders fell on their own swords with great facility. Indira Gandhi stood and won from two constituencies, Rae Bareli and Medak; Sanjay was elected comfortably from Amethi.

With mother and son back in power, furious speculation raged in early 1980 as to what role the mother had planned for her son. Also, whether both had absorbed the egregious lessons of the Emergency—primarily excesses in the family planning and slum clearance programmes. Would a measure of civility replace the dreaded midnight knock in public life? Indira Gandhi admitted some excesses might have been committed by sycophants and overzealous ministers, bureaucrats and assorted flunkeys, but her son, she insisted, was innocent and not involved. She characterised the excesses as “gross exaggerations” spread by the media and long-standing Congress enemies. This defence, repeated ad nauseam, suggested that Sanjay and his merry men would resume from where they had left off. Privately, Indira conceded the no-smoke-without-fire hypothesis, ie., there must be some truth in the sundry allegations. But her formal position was to live in denial.

On March 31, 1980, Maneka gave birth to a son. He was named Varun. Indira was over the moon. Now, she had three grandchildren, one from her problem son. Alas, Varun’s birth did not ease the tensions between the brothers and their respective wives. Rajiv and Sonia retreated into their private space. It was as if they were hermetically sealed from the hectic goings-on at India’s most politically active house. More:

More than a kiss-and-tell

Namita Bhandare on the website Newslaundry: Three reasons why you should read Tavleen Singh’s Durbar and why it ultimately fails.

If you’ve been following Tavleen Singh’s weekly column in The Indian Express, you should be fairly familiar with her politics. At the very least, you would be aware of her antipathy to Congress policies, or more specifically to Sonia Gandhi. Yet, regardless of whether you agree with her politics or not, there are three reasons why you should read Durbar.

First, Ms Singh is a been there-done that journalist, covering every important event in contemporary India, and covering it the old-fashioned, hard way: by train, staying in dusty circuit houses, riding through pot-holed constituencies, sneaking into curfew-bound Amritsar, going the extra mile for The Story. You have to respect that and you have to concede that Ms Singh has certainly earned her gripes. more

Interpreting Sonia Gandhi

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

In Zareer Masani’s recent memoir of his parents, And All is Said, he quotes a letter written to him by his mother in 1968. “Yesterday we went to Mrs Pandit’s reception for Rajiv Gandhi and his wife,” wrote Shakuntala Masani, adding, “I can’t tell you how dim she is, and she comes from a working-class family. I really don’t know what he saw in her.”

And All is Said was widely reviewed when it was published, but no reviewer seems to have picked up on this comment. Shakuntala Masani was the daughter of Sir J.P. Srivastava, once one of the most influential men in India, an industrialist with wide business interests and a member of the viceroy’s executive council besides. Shakuntala’s husband, Minoo Masani, was a well-educated Parsi from a family of successful professionals, who was himself a leading politician and writer. By upbringing and marriage Shakuntala Masani was a paid-up member of the Indian elite. Hence the condescending remarks about the working-class Italian whom Rajiv Gandhi had chosen as his wife.

The object of Mrs Masani’s contempt has, for some time now, been the most powerful person in India. How did she achieve that power, and what has she done with it? Sonia Gandhi’s rise in politics has been at least as unlikely as Barack Obama’s. Moving to Cambridge to learn English (but not at the university), she met and fell in love with Rajiv Gandhi. He brought her to India, where she lived a life of quiet domesticity, bringing up her children and attending to her husband. Through the turmoil of the 1970s, through the Emergency and its aftermath, Rajiv Gandhi stayed well out of politics. His stated ambition, at this stage, was to be promoted from flying Avros between Delhi and Lucknow to piloting Boeings on the more prestigious Delhi-Bombay run. More

From ‘silent’ prime minister to a tragic one

In Washington Post, Simon Denyer looks at the two terms of Manmohan Singh to see a tragic decline in reputation.

 India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh helped set his country on the path to modernity, prosperity and power, but critics say the shy, soft-spoken
79-year-old is in danger of going down in history as a failure.

The architect of India’s economic reforms, Singh was a major force behind his country’s rapprochement with the United States and is a respected figure on the world stage. President Obama’s aides used to boast of his tremendous rapport and friendship with Singh.

But the image of the scrupulously honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.

Every day for the past two weeks, India’s Parliament has been adjourned as the opposition bays for Singh’s resignation over allegations of waste and corruption in the allocation of coal-mining concessions. more

Manmohan Singh: Guilty on many counts, not corrupt

Harish Khare, Indian Prime Minister’s former media adviser, in The Hindu:

My mind instantly recalled a conversation I had had with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the day I joined him as Media Adviser in June 2009. That afternoon he spent an hour with me, sharing his views and thought-processes. At the end of the conversation, just as I was leaving, he beckoned me to sit down again and said: “One more thing, Harish. If you ever hear anything about any member of my family engaging in any kind of hanky-panky, please come and tell it straight to me, however unpleasant or painful it may be.”

Now this man is being called “corrupt” by a bunch of self-appointed Shankaracharyas who have arrogated to themselves the licence to declare someone clean and someone else corrupt. The charge of “corrupt” carries with it a suggestion of active collusion in abuse of governmental discretion in exchange for a monetary consideration.

Last year the argument was: “So what, if you are honest?” This season the demonisation game has been ratcheted up to declare Manmohan Singh to be corrupt. Was it not George Orwell who had warned us against how political language was “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”? Old George would have admired Team Anna’s homicidal finesse.

Manmohan Singh is not corrupt, but he is definitely guilty. He can be easily charged — along with his political partner, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi — of pursing a politics of decency and of elevating reconciliation to a matter of state policy. More:

When Rajiv and Sonia went for ice cream

Heather Timmons at NYT / India Ink:

One summer day in the early 1970s, a photographer named Baldev Kapoor snapped a shot of a young, handsome couple enjoying one of Delhi’s most common warm weather pursuits: eating ice cream near the India Gate monument.

It was no ordinary couple, of course — it was a recently married Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi.

The photographer, who goes by his first name, has chronicled India’s history through a camera lens for more than five decades, from the country’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the Dalai Lama’s escape to India, through the establishment of controversial “family planning” camps and the Emergency, until the present day visits of foreign leaders including United States president Barack Obama.

While some of Baldev’s images are archived with photo agency Sygma, now Corbis, many others, like the iconic ice cream shot above, are stored on slide film, tucked in envelopes he keeps in his New Delhi home. More:

Why the Congress represents Indian values best

Aakar Patel in Mint Lounge:

We are a Congress-minded nation.

In saying this, I don’t mean we’re a nation of Congress voters, though that also is not inaccurate. Other than in one election, 1977, Indians have always voted for the Congress more than for any other party.

What I mean is that Indian values are best, and I would even say, only represented by the Congress. These values are religious accommodation, comfort with racial and linguistic diversity, acceptance of caste in politics, comfort in dynasty and a preference for compromise over principle. This flexibility has kept India democratic, and it is a Congress trait. The party also represents the middle-class consensus which views India as a great civilizing force, and seeks a nurturing of India’s cultural aesthetic.

In Pakistan’s The Express Tribune, Khaled Ahmed wrote on 8 April: “The Indian Constitution informs the attitude of the Indian middle class, which is tolerant of secularism.” This is true, and as an idea it is owned by the Congress.

Unlike the Tories and Labour in the UK or Republicans and Democrats in the US, we don’t have division by ideology in Hindu middle-class society. More:

I have given up my life for Priyanka, says Robert Vadra

From The Times of India:

 How difficult has it been for you to be married into India’s most famous political family?

Over time, I have understood my role in this family. The before- and after-I-met-Priyanka versions of me are the same. My friends are all my old friends. I go to a nightclub with them and I ask them, “How are we going to get in?” Then they look at me strangely. Yes, I took out public notices against my father and my brother, and that’s not normal…

The public notices said your father and brother should be given no favours. Your father claimed to have disowned you when you married Priyanka.

My sister was never connected to the notices . It is not easy to be consistently determined to not use the good offices of my family. But there are people who do not relent . They think a favour is only a phone call away. One way of stopping that was to take out the notices, saying my father and brother were to be given no favours. More:

And below, in The Indian Express:

I try to keep middlemen away from the family: Robert Vadra

Although Vadra did not completely rule out the possibility of joining politics in future, he said his “leaning” for the present is “towards business”.

“I do many businesses. I keep myself interested in many fields. Because of my wife’s family, I happen to know, study, learn and discuss politics, just as in my family we talk about business morning, noon and night. When I do exhibitions, everybody is involved. The same way, in case of my wife’s family, I take part in what they do.”

“There is a lot of interest in me because I am not easily available and do not talk to the media. People would like to know about me. While campaigning for Rahul and my mother-in-law, I meet young workers. They have a lot of respect for me and are very enthusiastic. I motivate them. When Priyanka and Rahul are not able to meet some people, I meet them one-on-one. I try to keep middlemen away from the family and give them first-hand information,” he said. More:

Insider as outsider

Rajdeep Sardesai in Hindustan Times:

In 1999, we experienced a ‘television moment’. We were covering Sonia Gandhi’s Amethi campaign when we happened to meet her daughter, Priyanka. For the next several hours, Priyanka took us on a whirlwind tour across the constituency. There were fewer camera crews then, so there wasn’t a mad scramble for sound bites. Priyanka was made for television: attractive, charming and spontaneous. She even had lunch with us under a banyan tree, spoke at length on her family legacy, and clearly revelled in the public glare. It was probably her first ever TV interaction, but she didn’t miss a beat. We were, well, bowled over.

Thirteen years later, little seems to have changed. She still offers an infectious smile, wears colourful designer khadi saris, relates with great warmth to the crowds, and willingly speaks to the camera. The travelling media (now more a circus) still hangs onto her every word, totally enchanted by her striking presence. And the question asked is no different to what we kept asking all those years ago: when is Priyanka joining politics? Her answer too is similar: back then, she said she was only campaigning for her mother, now she says her involvement is limited to helping her brother, Rahul. And yet, we persist, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, one day she will, like the eternally bashful bride, finally say, ‘yes!’.

What does this Priyanka mania suggest? Firstly, it reveals the desperate shortage of telegenic personalities in public life. Faced with a tired and geriatric political class, many of whom are well past their sell-by date, Priyanka clearly stands out. The fact that she is rarely seen, emerging only at election time perhaps enhances her mystique. She is elusive for much of the year, occasionally being seen at a fashion show or Page 3 event. Elections is when she is catapulted from Page 3 to Page 1 news. More:

The politics of clothes: What Priyanka’s Amethi sari tells us

Sagarika Ghose at First Post:

Priyanka Gandhi / PTIPriyanka Gandhi is hardly ever seen in a sari in Delhi. For the July 2008 trust vote in parliament, she, in fact, showed up in trendy dark trousers and a white shirt, an outfit both stunning and honest about who she is.

The stately young mother is often seen picking up her children from school in casual jeans and T-shirt. She attends charity functions in western wear, steps out for Delhi dinners in western wear, is seen at restaurants in western wear. Then why, oh why, must the gorgeous Priyanka Gandhi get into ethnic costume every time she visits Amethi?

Will the voters be so turned off if, for example, she arrived in jeans and, say, a long kurta? Would such an outfit not be more honest, more real, more in tune with who she actually is, rather than staging a traditional masquerade in handloom? Sure, let’s always respect local sentiments when we dress, but transforming oneself into a costumed actor to fit the stereotypes of Incredible India seems such a condescension to the good people of Amethi!

Recent pictures show Priyanka in colourful saris doing a sort of Passage To India routine of “mingling easily with the natives”. Perhaps pant suits are not “suitable” for Amethi, but it does seem a little “off-to-meet-the-villagers-now-darling” to get into regulation handloom and chat with the rustics in the pursuit of feudal noblesse oblige.

Why does one’s identity have to undergo such a transformation from city to village? Priyanka’s handloom sari “dressing down” seems deeply condescending, particularly given the fact that she is never seen in such clothes in Delhi or Mumbai. Isn’t it an unthinking elitism to get into “typical ethnic” gear to go and meet one’s voters, rather like the princess wearing ordinary clothes to keep the peasants happy? Indira Gandhi wore the same elegant cotton saris to Delhi soirees and to the Dalit village in Belchi. More:

The Priyanka Gandhi factor

Smita Gupta in The Hindu:

Earlier this week when Priyanka Gandhi Vadra spent three days in Uttar Pradesh, drumming up support for the Congress in the 10 Assembly segments across the two parliamentary constituencies held by her mother Sonia Gandhi and brother Rahul Gandhi, there was the predictable speculation in the media: was the Gandhi-Nehru — acknowledged in the party as the most charismatic living member in the family — about to join active politics?

It wasn’t just the glamour quotient at work: Ms. Vadra triggered off some of the speculation herself when she was asked by journalists if she was planning to campaign outside the family stronghold, something she does in every election. “I have not decided yet… So far I am here in Amethi and Rae Bareli and my brother and I will talk to each other and decide on it,” she said, stressing, “I’ll do anything for my brother, whatever is required of me. I’ll do whatever he requires me to do.”

Pressed on whether she would join active politics if Mr. Gandhi asked her to, she was deliberately ambivalent: “He knows to what extent he can require me.”

Since then, while the Congress confirmed that Ms. Vadra would be back for a second foray into Rae Bareli and Amethi, closer to the elections there next month, all that senior U.P. leaders have been willing to say is the extent of her engagement will be decided by the family, as the campaign progresses. More:

Brand Priyanka

Shobha John in The Times of India:

 She’s called a ‘reluctant bride’, a ‘seasonal variation’ and a ‘media lovely’. For the swish set, Priyanka Gandhi is a fashion icon or a socialite. But when she goes to the rural hinterlands, she’s appears wrapped casually in a cotton sari, reminding one of her grandmother. And now, she’s campaigning in UP for her brother Rahul. UP is the acid test for Brand Rahul. But it’s Priyanka that people are talking about despite her campaigning in the ‘family’ constituencies. Will Brand Priyanka work for the party and her brother? “Priyanka’s presence may have marginal impact at the ground level. She has Indira Gandhi’s looks, has more charm than Rahul and can draw people, but in today’s caste-based politics, these factors may only garner more audience, not votes. Often, people come to see her out of sheer curiosity,” says Mithileshwar Jha, professor of marketing, IIM-Bangalore. “She’s like a reluctant bride but people want to see what she will deliver.”

While she is visually appealing with Indira’s aquiline nose and charisma, ad gurus say that a premium brand needs much more than just beautiful packaging. “The Congress has not been able to create a mass leader after Indira,” says Sajan Raj Kurup, founder and creative chairman of Creativeland Asia. “A brand needs sustained content and stature. I don’t know what the content here is. Rahul and Priyanka come across as tender newbies in front of hardened politicos like Mulayam and Mayawati.” More


The 70 who matter

Barack Obama topped Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful people in 2011. Obama bumped Chinese President Hu Jintao from the No. 1 spot on the magazine’s annual rankings.

11: Sonia Gandhi, leader of India’s ruling Congress party: “India’s most powerful politician (who) has twice refused to serve as prime minister, delegating that job to Manmohan Singh.”

19: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: “the incorruptible Cambridge and Oxford-educated economist (is) widely respected as the man behind India’s economic reforms, which have led to the subcontinent’s blistering growth over the last decade.”

35: Anil Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Industries

47: Lakshmi Mittal, Chairman, ArcelorMittal

51: Dalai Lama

56: Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan

57: Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, Leader, D-Company: “”organized crime figure (is) suspected of involvement in both the 1993 and 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.”

61: Azim Premji, Chairman, Wipro

Get well soon, Sonia Gandhi

She isn’t particularly educated, secured her position because of whom she married and has compromised when needed. So what makes Sonia Gandhi India’s most powerful leader? In The Friday Times, Aakar Patel searches for the answers.

Sonia Gandhi, who has led India’s largest political party since 1998, is in a New York hospital after being operated on for cancer.

The Gandhi family has been secretive about her illness, and it came out only after being reported in the foreign press. Those in the Congress party who must have been updated about her condition, like prime minister Manmohan Singh and Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, have not spoken about it. We do not really know how serious the illness is, which organ is affected or even whether or not it is in fact cancer. London’s Daily Telegraph reported that Gandhi had been under treatment for eight months before flying out in secrecy. This indicates that the surgery was serious and not “routine” as described by the Congress party’s spokesmen. more

What ails them?

In India, not just Sonia Gandhi, but political leaders from M.A. Jinnah to Indira Gandhi have been loathe to be forthcoming about their ailments writes Samanth Subramanian in India Ink, NYT’s new India-specific blog

In the tempestuous latter half of August — marked, in India, by a prominent activist’s public fast, pop-up protests, debates about corruption, and even debates about the debates about corruption — the Congress Party seemed to flounder like a dinghy in a maelstrom. Perhaps it was because no one was at the tiller. Earlier in the month, a spokesman had announced that Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president, had left the country for three weeks for surgery, and that the party would, in her absence, be run by a four-man committee.

Then even that trickle dried up; the party released no official word on what she was being treated for, where she was being treated, or when precisely she would return. When presented with rumors — of cancer, of a visit to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, of an Indian-origin oncologist being mysteriously called away from holiday — the party replied with grim silence. (She’s back now – or so we were told, in an equally laconic vein.) more

Sister act

In the Economist, the appearance last week in Parliament of Priyanka Gandhi to listen to her brother Rahul Gandhi speak has tongues wagging, yet again.

AMID all the recent fuss about Anna Hazare, perhaps everyone has missed the most intriguing political news story of the week in Delhi: the tentative reappearance of Priyanka Gandhi, daughter of Sonia Gandhi and sister of Rahul Gandhi. She is a bright and capable woman who had previously been touted as, potentially, a very powerful political figure.

The Gandhi-Nehrus have dominated Congress, and thus India, for most of the 64 years since Indian independence. Sonia Gandhi is today the president of Congress and, in effect, the boss of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh. But the time for her to pass up control of the family dynasty may possibly come sooner rather than later. At that moment, it is generally assumed that of her two children it will be Rahul who takes over. He has been groomed to rule, as indicated by his position as MP for the family’s longstanding constituency, Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh. He is also a leading reformer in the Congress party and one of the four people nominated by Sonia this month to keep an eye on party affairs while she is abroad for medical care. more

Sonia Gandhi: Seventh Most Powerful Woman

Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi and Indra Nooyi, Indian-American CEO of PepsiCo, figure among the top ten in the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful women:

1 Angela Merkel, 57, Chancellor, Germany

2 Hillary Clinton, 63, Secretary of State, United States

3 Dilma Rousseff, 63, President, Brazil

4 Indra Nooyi, 55, Chief Executive, PepsiCo, United States

5 Sheryl Sandberg, 41, COO, Facebook, United States

6 Melinda Gates, 47, Cofounder, Cochair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, United States

7 Sonia Gandhi, 64, President, Indian National Congress Party

8 Michelle Obama, 47, First Lady, United States

9 Christine Lagarde, 55, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund, France

10 Irene Rosenfeld, 58, CEO, Kraft Foods

Others from South Asia:

26: Aung San Suu Kyi, 66, General Secretary, National League For Democracy, Myanmar

43: Chanda Kochhar, 49, CEO, ICICI Bank, India

99: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, 58, Founder, Chair, Biocon, India

Full list here

Gandhi dynasty: politics as usual

As Sonia Gandhi receives medical treatment in the U.S., foreign – and not Indian – media reported about the leader of the Congress Party. Can Indians hope that the party will have the maturity to elect one from amongst itself or will the limp Indian opposition cohere into a credible force, ask Neelam Deo and Manjeet Kripalani in Gateway House.

As the Indian television channels fell over each other to cover in minute detail, the unseemly succession drama of the Chief Minister of Karnataka, and the Comptroller and Auditor General’s naming of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit in the graft and corruption surrounding the India-hosted Comomwealth Games, by 2.30 pm this afternoon (August 4), foreign television agencies the BBC and Agence France-Presse reported that Sonia Gandhi, head of India’s ruling Congress Party, has undergone surgery in the United States. The foreign news reports named Gandhi’s spokesperson, Janardhan Dwivedi, as the source of the information. Dwivedi stated that Gandhi would be away, recuperating, for up to three weeks.

The news of Sonia Gandhi’s undisclosed illness and secret departure has come as a shock to Indians, who of late, have been feeling distanced from their government and are reeling from disclosures of massive graft by politicians and a failure to control inflation. Democratic institutions like the media and the Parliament, which should have disclosed Gandhi’s condition as a matter of public knowledge, have kept silent. more

Sonia Gandhi’s health can’t be a state secret, it’s not about privacy

Ever since news of Sonia Gandhi’s illness and subsequent surgery, reportedly at Sloane Kettering Memorial Hospital, New York, broke there has been endless speculation about the state of her health. The Congress party, however, has been tight-lipped, saying only that she will return after recuperating for two to three weeks and that her family asks that her privacy be respected. In FirstPost.com, R Jagannathan questions the need for secrecy.

There are only questions, and no answers so far, on Sonia Gandhi’s illness that required a surgery.

One, how can the nation’s most powerful political leader, virtual chief executive of the ruling party, not let us know that there was something for us to be concerned about?

Two, how is it that when so many people knew about it—her immediate family, close political advisors, doctors and hospital staff, and personal attendants—the media never got a whiff of it? And if it did, why did it choose to keep so quiet about it?

Three, is news about the illness or medical condition of the people who run our country a state secret? When the main reason for keeping a PM out of Lokpal is that the top executive should not be distracted by nitpicking concerns, is it legitimate to have our No. 1 political leader being unfit through illness?

Four, what makes us—as a people—particularly afraid to learn the truth about our leaders’ medical condition, whether it is politicians or businessmen? Are we happier living in a state of denial?

Five, why is it that even when we do know something now, there is a strange reluctance to reveal the full truth. A Congress party statement merely said: “Sonia Gandhi has been recently diagnosed with a medical condition that requires surgery. On advice from her doctors, she has travelled abroad and is likely to be away for two to three weeks.” more

Unwell Sonia signals transition; Rahul to share party reins

From The Telegraph:

The widely unexpected health setback to Congress president Sonia Gandhi has instantly compelled the reluctant son and heir apparent Rahul Gandhi closer to a centrestage role.

Sonia, 64, underwent surgery at Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York today.

She has instructed that a four-member group of A.K. Antony, Rahul Gandhi, Ahmed Patel and Janardan Dwivedi will look after Congress affairs in her absence.

The Congress said their leader and UPA chairperson is likely to be “away for two to three weeks” but the creation of a high-powered backup team sparked intense speculation that recovery from her current condition could take much longer for her to return to active station.

Equally, there is now strong and just conjecture that her ill-health has occasioned serious contingency measures, chief among which is the foregrounding of Rahul as prime mover while she is gone or recuperating. Rahul is in the US with his mother and has not been able to attend the monsoon session of Parliament which began this week.

Sonia’s illness, serious enough for invasive medical attention, has come to light at a time when the UPA government is confronted with multiple crises, including allegations of corruption in the highest places.

Although there is little to suggest Rahul is currently anything more than party general secretary and part of a four-man crisis-management team, Congress leaders are not denying Rahul could, at least in the short term, take his mother’s place in the core group and even take on Sonia’s responsibilities as party president. More:

From fig leaf to banana republic

Nobody sheds a tear when the police harass ordinary citizens. But with the rich and powerful under the corruption scanner, the Prime Minister now fears a police state. Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

The Prime Minister and his advisors just don’t get it. At a time when the public is looking for an end to the loot of public money, the last thing they want to hear from their government is a bunch of excuses and alibis.

In his interaction with a small group of editors on Wednesday, Dr. Manmohan Singh made a number of arguments to justify the half-hearted action that has been taken so far against the politicians, officials and businessmen suspected of corruption in the telecom, hydrocarbon and other sectors.

First he said the decisions which the media and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) are citing as evidence of irregularities and graft were all taken in good faith under conditions of uncertainty. “If out of 10 decisions that I take, seven turn out to be right ex-post, that would be considered an excellent performance,” he said. “But if you have a system which is required to perform [in] 10 out of 10 cases, no system can be effective and satisfy that onerous condition.”

His second argument was to attack all bearers of bad tidings, accusing the CAG of going beyond the limits prescribed by Constitution and the media of being judge, jury and executioner rolled into one. The Prime Minister then invoked the spectre of India becoming a police state — a situation “where everybody is policing everybody else” and the entrepreneurial spirit of our businessmen is crushed — if the present atmosphere of “cynicism” about government decisions continued. Finally, he sought to puncture the popular demand for a strong and effective Lokpal, saying an ombudsman of that kind was not a panacea. Instead, he suggested the government’s Unique ID programme might be the magic wand people are looking for: “If … [we] can give unique ID numbers to all our residents, we would have discovered a new pathway to eliminate the scope for corruption and leakages in the management and distribution of various subsidies.” More:

The duet of prime minister and party president is not working

Rramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

Although Manmohan Singh is, in theory, head of government, he has absolute authority only in one sphere — foreign policy — and substantial authority in one other sphere — namely, economic policy. On matters such as relations between India and Pakistan, and the government’s position on nuclear proliferation, Sonia Gandhi has no wish to shape the government’s policy. We do have a foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, but on these questions he too is happy to defer to the judgment of the prime minister.

Before he joined the Congress, Singh was an economist, not a diplomat. His first (and most successful) assignment in politics was as finance minister of the government of India from 1991 to 1996. However, as prime minister, while he has complete autonomy in foreign policy, in the realm of economics he shares his powers with the finance minister and the Congress president. When it comes to macroeconomic issues such as trade policy and monetary policy, Singh has a substantial say. When it comes to welfarist measures such as food distribution and fertilizer subsidies, he has to often bow to the wishes (and political compulsions) of the party president.

As for Sonia Gandhi, it is now increasingly apparent that her public statements and public appearances are directly linked to their presumed electoral benefits. If she can appear as one who, by the grace of her personality, helps the citizens of India live a more stable and economically secure life, then she will speak and show herself in public. Thus, a scheme that puts money or foodgrains in the hands of the poor will be inaugurated by her, but so also a bridge or airport which facilitates travel for the middle class and the affluent. More:

The Last Lear

Can the aging patriarch of India’s most fractious political dynasty hold his family together—and continue to cling to power in Tamil Nadu? Vinod K Jose in Caravan:

O n the scorching Friday afternoon of 11 May 2007, at Chennai’s Island Grounds, Muthuvel Karunanidhi had some important business to settle privately with Sonia Gandhi.

Gandhi, the Congress party president, had come to Chennai—along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and two former prime ministers—to join the celebrations marking Karunanidhi’s 50th anniversary as a legislator, an unprecedented milestone in Indian politics. But on this humid summer day, as thousands of his followers from across the state converged on the burning sands to celebrate their leader’s longevity, the then 83-year-old chief minister of Tamil Nadu had something else on his mind.

“It was like a thorn for him, and he had to remove it with as little damage as possible,” said an associate of Karunanidhi who described the conversation to me.

Minutes before the golden jubilee celebrations began, Karunanidhi took Gandhi aside. “Daya has to be dropped,” Karunanidhi said, referring to his grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran, then the Union minister for communications and information technology. “He’s failed us.”

“Don’t worry,” she assured him. “Your wish will be fulfilled.” The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition government, then as now, required the support of Karunanidhi and his party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Gandhi, as chairperson of the ruling coalition in the Lok Sabha, was unlikely to take issue with his request.

Dayanidhi Maran, then 41 years old, had served three years as the communications minister, a plump portfolio in New Delhi that Karunanidhi had personally requested for him. Maran quickly became the sophisticated face of the DMK in the capital: he spoke in fluent English to the national press and wore designer shirts and trousers—a marked departure from the dhoti-clad DMK politicians who had preceded him.

But back home, tensions had been rising between Karunanidhi and his grand-nephews—Dayanidhi and his elder brother, Kalanithi, who had leveraged party connections to build a powerful media empire that included Sun TV, India’s largest television network. Karunanidhi was convinced that his own family had been shortchanged by Kalanithi Maran, who had aggressively bought back the family’s shares in Sun TV for well under the market value before taking the company public in 2006. And now, Karunanidhi believed, the Marans were intent on fomenting discord among his own children, his chosen political heirs. More:

The princely state of India

In Outlook, an except from India: A Portrait — An intimate biography of 1.2 billion people by Patrick French:

It had first become apparent to me during the 2004 election campaign, and it niggled again now. The problem was the first-time MPs. With their spanking faces and sense of bland entitlement, these young men and women were treated with reverence by the Indian media, although their achievement was usually to have shared genes with an earlier leader. I watched one of these new MPs on television as he drove through the dust of his inherited family constituency in an enormous Pajero, turning now and then to a waiting camera with a purposeful frown and saying things like “I want to help these people, like my father did” or “We are going to make India No. 1.” He looked like a giant baby who had been dressed up and put in a big buggy and sent off on an adventure.

The disjuncture between these fresh fruits and the hopes of the many millions of individuals they were supposedly representing was massive. In person, they were perfectly affable and often idealistic, but as a phenomenon, they were damaging. Was Indian national politics becoming hereditary, with power passing to a few hundred families, even as the elections themselves became more vibrant and open?

In the case of the new contenders, all you needed to know was the surname. It seemed India’s strong women politicians were not reproducing themselves, for most of the new MPs were only sons, probably on account of the social convention in the 1970s that educated people should have small families. ‘Hum do, hamare do’—‘We two, and our two’—was the slogan. Rahul was the son of Rajiv Gandhi, Jitin was the son of Jitendra Prasada, Jyotiraditya was the son of Madhavrao Scindia, Sachin was the son of Rajesh Pilot and brother-in-law of Omar Abdullah, who was the grandson of Sheikh Abdullah and son of Farooq Abdullah; Akhilesh was the son of the Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and Dushyant was the son of Vasundhara Raje, the former BJP chief minister of Rajasthan and sister of Madhavrao Scindia. And so it continued. More:

So Nehru killed Gandhi!!!

Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express recalls a meeting with the former RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a right-wing Hindu organisation) chief K.S. Sudarshan. Sudarshan is in the news for calling Sonia Gandhi a CIA agent; he accused her of plotting assassinations of her husband Rajiv Gandhi and mother-in-law Indira Gandhi. Both BJP and RSS have distanced themselves from his statements.

The key to understanding India’s plight, he said, right elbow resting thoughtfully on his raised knee, is to understand the Nehru parivar, how they have “conspired” to take control of this country, and to systematically destroy all that should have been dear to all “Hindustanis”. He started the story of this “conspiracy” from Gandhi’s assassination for which the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha were “unfairly blamed”. This was the usual RSS lament I thought, until he asked me, eyes wide with genuine disbelief: “So, do you also believe that Godse killed Gandhi?”“Is there any doubt?” I asked. “The courts convicted him.”“You people are so gullible,” he said. “You do not even look at the facts.”Then he started to explain the “facts”. See that picture of Godse with folded hands in front of Gandhi. “If he had actually shot him, the bullet would have entered from a higher point in his body and exited from a lower point,” he said. He asked me, further, if I knew the difference between someone being shot with a revolver and a pistol.“I am not sure I do,” I said. “But how is that important?”“Because the entry wound of a pistol shot is smaller than the exit wound and, in Gandhi’s case, it was the other way round. Yet they claimed Godse shot him with a pistol.”“And how is that important?” I asked, now worried that our dinner, where we were supposed to discuss areas that our interview would explore the next morning, was going into some kind of jadoo territory.“Because, from all evidence, Godse did not kill Gandhi. And you know what,” he continued, “Nehru made sure no post-mortem was conducted on Gandhi’s body. Because he did not want the truth to come out.”“So then, Sudarshanji, who killed Gandhi?” I asked.“Why ask me?” he said, with a smile that was as conspiratorial as QED. “You can see who stood to benefit from Gandhi’s assassination. Everybody knows Gandhi was going to make Patel prime minister.”“But, Sudarshanji, somebody did shoot Gandhi in front of hundreds of people,” I asked.“Yes, somebody did. But not saamne se, kintu peechhe se,” he explained. “It was a do-dhaari ki talwar (two-edged sword),” a conspi-racy to give the Nehru parivar unfettered power and to blame the Hindus for killing Gandhi.“And how do you know this, Sudarshanji?” I asked.“There was this book written by a former police officer in Andhra Pradesh. I believe he exposed all these facts,” he said. Of course, he said he had not read the book himself, did not remember its title or the name of its author and closed the argument with the finality of death, literally, by saying that the supposed cop-writer, whose name nobody could recall, had also obviously been dead for some time. More:

Robert Vadra interview

In The Times of India, an interview with Robert Vadra, who is married to Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka:

“I can definitely win (an election) from anywhere but I am a businessman. Why politics? I should be known for what I am,” says Robert Vadra. The country’s most famous son-in-law likes to be known as an exporter of handicrafts and costume jewelery, while seeking to play down his link with the Gandhi family.

In an exclusive interview to TOI on Tuesday, Vadra, 41, said he would join politics only when he felt he could make a difference. “There is a time and place for everything. If I feel that I know enough about this line (politics), if I can dedicate enough time and effort to it, when my children are grown up and if I can make a difference, then why not?” he said. But he hastened to add, “I don’t even indulge in the thought at the moment. I enjoy my children, my business, my fitness regime and other pursuits.”

He revealed for the first time that he was under great pressure to contest from Sultanpur (UP) in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections but refused. “There was huge demand for me to stand (from Sultanpur) but I was clear that it was not my place. I was being recognized only because of the family,” he said.

However, he conceded that he “does his bit” by accompanying wife Priyanka during election campaigns. “I travel with her when she campaigns. I have been travelling for 12 years. I have done my bit, given many speeches,” he said. More:

[We'll update this post after The Times publishes the full text of the interview tomorrow.]

Bengali bride for Maneka Gandhi’s son Varun

From The Telegraph:

Varun Gandhi is poised to beat cousin and fellow MP Rahul Gandhi to the altar, and will be the first descendant of Jawaharlal Nehru to marry a Bengali.

A nugget for lovers of political trivia: this will also be the first time since Jawaharlal married Kamala Kaul 94 years ago that a Nehru-Gandhi will wed a Brahmin.

The issue of bride Yamini Roy’s caste is inconsequential for Varun but is laden with symbolism in the politics of the heartland, where the groom-to-be is the BJP member of Parliament from Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh.

The Delhi-based Yamini, who is in her mid-20s, is the daughter of Aruna Vasudev, the founder-president of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema. The family is originally from Santiniketan, where Varun’s late grandmother Indira Gandhi had studied for a while.

Yamini, whose family surname is Roy Chowdhury though she uses only Roy, has her own graphic designing studio, Incarnation, in Delhi. She had trained in the fine arts and graphics at Sorbonne University in Paris after graduating in philosophy from St Stephen’s College, Delhi. The couple are said to share an interest in the fine arts, literature and films.

Varun’s mother Maneka Gandhi would be happy that Yamini is a vegetarian. Maneka, the BJP member of Parliament from Aonla, is an animal rights activist and a staunch promoter of vegetarianism. More

…as the Hand plucks at the Lotus, one petal at a time

In Tehelka, Swapan Dasgupta on the BJP’s strategy and Narendra Modi’s political future:

On his part, Modi never had the slightest doubt that the Supreme Court had unwittingly handed the Congress Party a deadly weapon of political combat by directing the CBI to investigate the ‘encounter death’ of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a criminal who shot to national fame after his death became the issue of a Modi-Sonia Gandhi sparring match in 2007. From early May, coinciding with the arrest of IPS officer Abhay Chudasama, he had been alerting the national leadership of the BJP to what he believed were the real intentions of the CBI inquiry: to drag Shah into the case and pave the way for a legal-cum-political assault on the Chief Minister himself. Those puzzled by the BJP’s unrelenting assault on the “Congress Bureau of Investigation” throughout last May and June were possibly unaware of the sub-text of the counter-offensive. Equally, those mystified by the BJP’s eccentric choice of senior criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani for the Rajya Sabha may now gauge that the Gujarat Chief Minister was in the process of ‘capacity building’ for what promises to be a long and bitter fight. Ironically, the Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed gave some of the game away when he demanded last Sunday that Modi answer various questions about the transfer of IPS officers linked to the case.

Whether the “Delhi Sultanate”, as Modi derisively describes the Union Government, will opt for a frontal assault on the man who worsted Sonia in the 2007 ‘maut ki saudagar’ electoral encounter or prefer the death by a thousand cuts approach isn’t clear as yet. For the moment, the political message of the CBI against Shah is that, far from being a doughty protector of national security, the Gujarat Government used robust patriotism as a cloak for running a protection and extortion racket with Shah as the mastermind and compliant policemen as foot soldiers. It has been suggested that Sohrabuddin was eliminated not because he was involved in a plot to kill Modi but because Shah had taken a supari from some frightened marble traders of Rajasthan.

A more ridiculous version of events suggests that it was Sohrabuddin who was the ‘actor’ in the sex film of the discredited BJP general secretary Sanjay Joshi. As such, or so the argument goes, he had to be eliminated to prevent the sordid truth of the BJP internal feuds from coming out in the open. Mercifully, this fanciful version of political intrigue, attributed to a prominent human rights activist, doesn’t find a place in the CBI version of events. More:

Pulp fiction?

Javier Moro’s The Red Sari is more hagiography than biography, a sanitized telling of the life of India’s first political family. Warts are glossed over, wrinkles botoxed, leaving only a shiny patina. Worse, this utterly pedestrian book is riddled with errors and inaccuracies. So why the hell is the Congress party making such a fuss?  Namita Bhandare reviews the book in Mint Lounge.

How do you get an utterly pedestrian book to shout “reprint”? Congress managers have made such a din about Javier Moro’s The Red Sari that the book has the imprint of best-seller stamped all over it.

What a shame. Forget for a minute the hundreds of mistakes—the sparse, angular Congress leader Bansi Lal consistently described as “chubby”; the idiotic translation of Kissa Kursi Ka as The Tale of Two Armchairs; the Festival of India turned into the Year of India; marigolds, the ubiquitous flower of political campaigns, becoming carnations; and, most glaring of all, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale referred to throughout the manuscript as Brindanwale (no first name). How much genius does it take to get the little things right? And if the details are wrong then how can this book, or any book, have credibility? We read the manuscript so, hopefully, editors at Roli, Moro’s Indian publisher, will clean up after him. more

In an earlier edition of Mint Lounge, Javier Moro’ tells Sanjukta Sharma his book is a ‘boon for the Gandhis’. Read that interview here.

India’s young and poor rally to another Gandhi

Jim Yardley on Rahul Gandhi in The New York Times:

Rahul Gandhi’s helicopter descends out of the boiling afternoon sky and a restless, sweat-soaked crowd of 100,000 people suddenly surges to life. Men rush forward in the staggering heat. Teenage boys wave a white bedsheet bearing a faintly cheeky request: We Want to Meet the Prince of India.

Mr. Gandhi climbs onto a special viewing stand in this isolated corner of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and offers a boyish wave. Not yet 40, Mr. Gandhi is the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister, the grandson of India’s fourth prime minister and the son of India’s seventh prime minister. His audience includes some of the poorest people in India.

“I’m standing here with you,” he declared to loud cheers, speaking for about 15 minutes before he left, waving through the window of his helicopter. “I can come with you anywhere and everywhere to fight with you.”

India is Mr. Gandhi’s family inheritance. Seemingly the only uncertainty is when he will collect it. He holds no major post in government, yet rumors persist that the governing Indian National Congress Party — whose president is his mother, Sonia Gandhi — might install him as prime minister before the current government expires in 2014. The job’s current occupant, Manmohan Singh, recently had to bat away retirement questions.

Yet despite his aura of inevitability, Mr. Gandhi largely remains an enigma. India is an emerging power, facing myriad domestic and international issues, but he remains deliberately aloof from daily politics. His thoughts on many major issues — as well as the temperature of the fire in his belly — remain mostly unknown. More

Book on Sonia Gadhi’s life: Congress Party sets the record straight

Two days ago The Indian Express reported that Madrid-based writer Javier Moro has written a book on Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi’s life, and that the party wants the book withdrawn from stores. The Spanish book is called El Sari Rojo (The Red Sari, subtitled When Life is the Price of Power). Responding to the story, Party spokesman Dr Abhishek Singhvi says in the paper:

It is obvious that Mr (Javier) Moro has contacted your correspondent and indulged in gross prevarication and distortion. He has not told her (at least it is not reported) that he was first notified about the grossly defamatory and false nature of his publication as far back as 05.11.2009. Thereafter, in correspondence extending over about 7 months, he has been told in no uncertain terms that his book is full of untruths, half truths, falsehoods, defamatory statements, completely imaginary and invented conversations within quotation marks and narrations of non-existent situations in the first person.

Consider, only as a small example out of a much larger list intimated to Mr Moro, whether the following untruths are at all capable of being substantiated by Mr Moro:

*On page 8 (of a manuscript in circulation), he has assumed, entirely erroneously, that the Hindu priests “refused to allow her to be present at the cremation” (following her husband’s death).

*Mr Moro has an obsession with Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s alleged desire to leave India for Italy. This theme recurs time and again and two examples are given below. More in The Indian Express:

Congress censors book on Sonia’s life

From The Indian Express:

The Congress’s censorship goes on. After objecting to certain parts of Prakash Jha’s movie Rajneeti, the party is now up in arms against Madrid-based writer Javier Moro’s novel based on its president Sonia Gandhi’s life.

The Spanish book is called El Sari Rojo (The Red Sari, subtitled When Life is the Price of Power), a reference to the red sari Sonia wore on her wedding day, “one that Nehru wove while he was in jail”. First published in October 2008, the book has already been translated into Italian, French and Dutch, and an English translation by Peter Hearn is ready for publication.

In an email, Moro, 55, said that Sonia’s lawyers, including Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, “have just written to my Italian and Spanish publishers to demand the withdrawal of the book from the stores. Nobody understands very well why, but that’s what they are up to”.

Moro thinks that the Congress leaders “did not like the recreation of her life in Italy as told in my book”. More: