Sonia Speaks

She spoke. Not only did she speak, she had a hissy fit in the Lok Sabha. India's most powerful political leader speaks so rarely that I watched in wonder as she berated L K Advani for daring to call her government 'illegitimate'. Then I went onto YouTube to check when it was last that Sonia Gandhi spoke extempore in public. I came upon many election speeches and a promotional video that told me 'ten things' about our leader that you may not know. She likes to keep her house clean and dusts her own room, 'especially before important meetings'. She is an 'excellent chef'. She loves Munshi Premchand and her favourite book is Godaan. She speaks nine languages, including French and German, and she loves handloom saris. While imbibing these riveting details about our leader's personal life, I searched in vain for a spontaneous political statement. I did not find one. Even after 26/11, she read nervously from an autocue to express her outrage.

Sonia Gandhi is possibly the only political leader in the world who does not communicate regularly with the people who elected her to power. She does not even communicate with us hacks. She gives no interviews and never comments on the big issues of the day. We have allowed her to get away with this because some of us are too scared to say anything negative about so powerful a political leader and some of us have been seduced into silence by private audiences and privileged access. So we do not even ask questions about Madame's health or her frequent trips abroad for treatment or who pays the bills. We fear her wrath even though we know that the health of political leaders is not usually allowed to remain shrouded in secrecy.

If Sonia's aloofness were an individual quirk, it may not have caused much damage. But, in careful emulation of her, the Prime Minister has, in his second term, become almost as aloof and as for the man who could be India's future prime minister, he is inaccessible except to a small coterie of friends and flunkeys. This has caused unease within the ranks of the Congress Party but nobody dares speak up.

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