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THE INDEX — May 26, 2009

Leaders of the Taliban insurgency are Read more

Jonathan Power: Talking to Sonia Gandhi

I walk up Sonia Gandhi’s driveway, past guards toting Uzi machine guns, and can’t help thinking that when I came to interview Indira Gandhi (Sonia’s mother-in-law) on the eve of her great comeback and massive electoral win in 1980, I walked up to her front door and knocked. There were no guards and only one servant to let me in. Only four years later, however, Indira would be assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards as revenge for ordering the army’s attack on Sikh freedom fighters holed up at Amritsar’s Golden Temple. I am ushered into Sonia’s office. She barely acknowledges my presence. “Buon giorno,” I say. There is no reply. I have been warned that she is cold. She doesn’t offer me a hand, but walks over and asks me to sit down. Sonia is the Italian-born widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was cruelly blown to smithereens by a female Tamil terrorist, a member of the now-defeated Tamil independence struggle in neighboring Sri Lanka. (It was the Tamils who invented both the suicide bomber and its female variant.) Since 1998, Sonia has held the presidency of the Indian National Congress Party, though she rejected the offer of the post of prime minster in 2004. “Do you mind if I begin with a personal question?” “Yes,” she says. I pause, then continue: “Wasn’t it difficult to decide to go into politics, knowing the dangers and the terrible toll it has taken on your family?” “I am at peace about that,” she replies. “I have thought it through.” Then she suddenly interjects, “I hope this isn’t an interview. I just want us to get to know each other a bit.” I remind her, perhaps a bit defensively, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (also a leader of the Congress Party) had arranged the introduction and said I could conduct an interview. We continue, but I put down my notebook and lapse into a gentler, more conversational style. “Why did the pull of politics overcome your inhibitions?” I ask.

THE INDEX — April 9, 2009

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