A novelist seeking to tell the story of Sonia Gandhi may be forgiven for seeing a fairy-tale element in the narrative: Beautiful foreigner comes to strange new land and marries handsome prince. They enjoy years of bliss, until the prince is obliged, in painful circumstances, to take over the kingdom and discovers the harsh realities of ruling a turbulent realm, culminating in the unspeakable tragedy of his murder. The queen retreats into silence and mourning until the insistent supplications of her courtiers compel her to emerge and once again take the destiny of the kingdom into her hands. Bliss to triumph to tragedy to triumph again a classic tale; I should have begun this story with the words Once upon a time...
But there is a twist to the tale. For the queen, offered the crown on a brocade cushion, turns it down. She prefers to remain behind the throne, walking with the peasantry, rallying the people but leaving power in the hands of her gray-haired viziers. The story of Sonia Gandhi, 61, is remarkable at every level, and the fairy-tale metaphor barely begins to scratch the surface of its extraordinariness. But which story is one to tell? That of the Italian who became the most powerful figure in a land of a billion Indians? That of the reluctant politician who led her party to power? That of the parliamentary leader who rejected the highest office in her adoptive land, one she had earned by her hard work and political courage? That of the woman of principle who demonstrated that one could stand for the right values even in a profession corroded by cynicism and cant? That of the novice in politics who became a master of the art, trusted her own instincts and discovered she could be right more often than her jaded rivals could ever have imagined?
The story of Sonia Gandhi must be all these stories, and more.
Tharoor's most recent book is The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone
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