My experience with Sonia Gandhi
Ms Harsha Oza
June 16-30, 1999
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Title: My experience with Sonia Gandhi Author: Ms Harsha Oza Publication: BJP Today Date: June 16-30, 1999 Sonia Gandhi, together with her children Rahul and Priyanka, accompanied Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on his official visit to Stockholm in January 1988. As per prescribed protocol, I, as the wife of Indian Ambassador, was required to escort and accompany Sonia Gandhi on her visits to art galleries, museums, schools, etc., as per separate programme arranged for her by the Swedish authorities, While Rajiv Gandhi was occupied with his schedule of official meetings and discussions with his counterparts. My odyssey started with the arrival of the VVIP visitors from India on a dark and chilly January night of Stockholm when outside temperature was -20 degrees centigrade and the tarmac of the Stockholm airport was slippery with snow. As per prearranged car plan for the drive from the airport to the hotel, Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson was to accompany Rajiv Gandhi in one car, and, I was supposed to sit with Sonia Gandhi in the next car, as Ingvar Carlsson had no wife. Rahul and Priyanka were to sit in a separate card behind Sonia Gandhi's car. Just as I was about to get into the car after Sonia Gandhi got in, she pulled Rahul and Priyanka in her car and made them to sit next to her. That not only threw the entire car plan into confusion, but also left me stranded on the tarmac in freezing cold as the carcade started moving as soon as the VVIPs got into their cars. Fortunately, my husband, whose car was three-four cars behind Sonia's, saw what had happened, slowed down his car and quickly pulled me in without breaking the flow of the moving carcade. On arrival at the hotel, I thought I would properly introduce myself to Sonia Gandhi and familiarize her with some details of the special programme arranged for her. I was told that the hour was late and she was tired. I was asked to come a bit early next day and meet her before proceeding for the first item on the programme. Accordingly, next day I went to the hotel at least an hour ahead of the schedule of the first item on the programme. I conveyed through her secretary of my arrival and intent to meet her for a few minutes before starting for the programme. I was not called in. Nor was I offered any place to sit and wait. I kept hanging out in the lobby outside her suite. She came out just in time to leave the hotel for the scheduled programme and rushed straight to the elevator surrounded by the SPGS. She went past me, but did not recognize me. I followed her to the elevator and barely managed to squeeze into the crowded elevator jostling with numerous SPGS. We got out of the elevator and got into separate cars; she with Rahul and Priyanka, and I by myself She went around the museum without speaking to me at all. At the end of the visit, we went back to our respective cars and to the hotel and the elevator and she rushed straight to her suite and I was again left in the lobby. Just as there were no 'Hi' or 'Hello' at the start, there were no good-byes at the end of the visit. The same drill was repeated for the afternoon schedule of the programme, except that when we got out of the elevator in the lobby of the hotel, a number of waiting media people and photographers started clicking their cameras and asking questions about her children, their age, schooling, hobbies, etc. Sonia Gandhi did not reply to any of those questions and continued to push ahead towards the car. Finally, an exasperated journalist looked at the 'Bindi' on my forehead and asked about its significance. It was not at all a new or strange, question to me as I had answered it several times to several people in our diplomatic roam-about. So, I quickly answered saying that traditionally it was a symbol of a married woman whose husband was alive but now-a-days, it had become a fashion mark. I saw a frown coming on Sonia's face and a certain degree of impatience with my talking to the reporters. Her reaction was translated into action by a young SPG who shoved and elbowed me away from the journalist in a very rough manner which almost hit and hurt my jaw. I yelled at the SPG fellow and asked him to behave properly with an Ambassador's wife. Sonia Gandhi saw all this but did not say anything to the rude SPG. I felt humiliated and mad. That night I came home in tears and told my husband not to involve me in any of the programme activities of Sonia Gandhi. My husband immediately got in touch with Sharada Prasad, the veteran information Secretary to P.M., and narrated my plight to him. Sharada Prasad personally expressed his regret at my experience and tried to comfort me by saying that Sonia Gandhi was known to be aloof by nature but was not arrogant and did not mean to humiliate anybody or show contempt for others. I was inclined to believe him. But next evening after the official banquet I saw Sonia Gandhi joking and talking, laughing loudly and jabbering away in Spanish with the wife of Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid. She looked a different Sonia Gandhi altogether. I was then convinced that although she enjoyed trappings of power which went with being Indian Prime Minister's wife, she could not relate comfortably to Indians, I felt that although she had made India her home, her heart was not in India and that she would be better off being in the land of her birth and the environments of her upbringing.