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Sonia Gandhi biography a big hit in India

In 2010, when Spanish author Javier Moro wanted to publish his dramatized biography of the life of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in India, he was threatened with legal action and his effigy was burnt by Congress workers outside the Spanish embassy in Delhi.

At the time, the Congress Party was in power and Gandhi was the most powerful politician in India.

The threats of legal action delayed plans to publish the English version of the book which came out in Spanish in 2008.

Last week, Moro’s “The Red Sari” was finally released by Indian publisher Roli Books, at a time when the Congress has lost power after last May’s elections and is in disarray.

It hit the stores to no protests and no comments from the party or the Gandhis. Instead the book, which has a young Gandhi on the cover, flew off the shelves.

Some 30,000 copies have been sold in the first week, according to its Indian publishers who had to order a reprint on the second day.

Moro, still smarting from the Congress onslaught, said he was happy the book had come to India.

“I am very thankful to the guys from Congress for making a negative campaign, which is responsible for the success of the book.

“It is five years behind schedule ... Now finally, it has a good (reception),” Moro told The Sunday Times.
Javier Moro’s book, parts of which read like a breathless romance, hit the stores in India. (The Straits Times)
Javier Moro’s book, parts of which read like a breathless romance, hit the stores in India. (The Straits Times)

The 59-year-old writer is the nephew of best-selling author Dominique Lapierre and has won the highest literary award in Spain for his book on the life of Brazil’s first emperor Dom Pedro I.

His book on Gandhi traces her rise from a village in Italy, where she was born, to the corridors of power of the world’s largest democracy and Asia’s third-largest economy.

Gandhi took over the leadership of the Congress Party in 1998, seven years after the assassination of her husband, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and guided the party to consecutive general election wins in 2004 and 2009.

She did not become premier but wielded power from behind the scenes.

“The book is a dramatized biography with the author creating dialogues out of first-person accounts and primary and secondary sources,” said Pramod Kapoor, head of Roli Books.

“It is a human side of the family ... There is nothing controversial.”

Indeed, parts of it read like a breathless romance.

Moro describes the first meeting between the young Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi thus:

“They shook hands.”

“As our eyes met for the first time,” Sonia would say, “I felt my heart pounding.

“Rajiv had been watching her throughout lunch, captivated by her beauty.”

“The first time I saw her,” Rajiv would say, “I knew she was the woman for me.”

Among the bits the party objected to was the mention that Gandhi had thought of leaving India with her two children Priyanka and Rahul after her husband died.

While critics have called the book everything from “a Mills and Boon,” in reference to the romance publisher, to a “Bollywood version” for its dialogues, Moro defended it, saying he had researched the book for four years, including spending four months in Gandhi’s native village of Lusiana.

“I don’t care if people don’t like the book. I have done it with as much honesty as I could.”

He said he titled it The Red Sari for the sari woven by India’s first premier Jawaharlal Nehru, while in jail, for his daughter Indira, who later gave it to Gandhi to wear on her wedding day.

Moro met Gandhi once, to ask her blessing for the book. “She told me, ‘we never read what’s written about us.’”

By Nirmala Ganapathy

(The Straits Times)