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'I am more proud of Sonia than Carla Bruni'

Sheela Bhatt in L'Aquila, Italy | August 10, 2009 15:35 IST
Last Updated: August 10, 2009 16:12 IST

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You could almost say that the name Sonia Gandhi [Images] evokes more awe in Italy [Images] than it does in India.

The prevailing admiration appears rooted in the fact of what she, born Edvige Antonia Albina Maino to a building contractor Stefano and housewife Paola, has been able to achieve within the Indian political context despite being alien in origin.

Giorgio Ferrari [Images], a journalist who has covered international politics and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the Milano-based daily Awenire, says, "We have seen that an Italian woman is climbing the steps of power to reach the top. We wish she becomes prime minister of India one day -- she will play a strong role not just in India, but in the world."

Sonia's rise, says Ferrari, achieves greater credibility because it occurs in India, the largest democracy in the world.

"She was a stranger once in your country," Ferrari told "It is marvellous to look back on her life and times. We realise she is no longer an Italian, but what she has achieved, more so as a woman, is still commendable. We believe she is a brave woman, with the courage to stand for what she believes in. She married into a family where political assassination happened; she made so many compromises as you have to do when you marry into a political family. We are proud to see an Italian on top of the government in India."

Italians, Ferrari says, are fierce, stubborn people, and Sonia appears to have inherited that national trait.

Referring to her desire to retain the family home near Turin, the journalist says, "I imagine that deep in her heart she is still Italian. She feels her roots in Italy. As you grow older you do remember the country from where you have gone places in life -- that is normal."

For all the admiration she evokes in Italy, he says, the media does not write of her often, largely because none of her family members are known in public life, and Sonia and her family tend to avoid the media in Italy.

That could be deliberate, suggests Gabriele Parussini, who works for Dow Jones in Paris and is from the same region of Italy as Sonia (his mother's aunt was, he said, close to the Maino family).

"I think Sonia Gandhi has succeeded in doing exactly what she was trying to do. She has completely erased her Italian connections. She has suppressed the fact that she is an Italian. She says she is an Indian," says Parussini.

"She is going too far, to the point that she doesn't want to speak Italian. I am told by some colleagues that when a major Italian paper had an interview with her she was asked a question in Italian, and she took extraordinary care to make sure that people perceive that she is Indian," he adds.

Sonia has been in India so long, Parussini points out, that young Italians in particular do not even see her as a fellow Italian any more. "She is in India for more years than I am alive. As a young Italian, I think she has been extremely successful in making herself an Indian. I have heard that she doesn't come to her hometown frequently. Italians do not know much about Indian politics either, so she is not seen in the media here."

"I know for sure that some four decades back, not many Italians went to study English in Cambridge or Oxford. That shows that she was a woman with a determination to leave the country where she was born. I believe Sonia Gandhi has done remarkable things, so she is known to everybody -- but the Maino family was never in public glare in Turino. I believe Sonia is more about the Gandhi family than the Maino family. It's a peripheral perception to criticise her as Italian -- what she is doing, she has to do to be in position of power in your country."

Asked if despite the generational disconnect he was proud of what Sonia Gandhi had become, Parussini said, "I think she has done pretty well for herself. I am more proud of Sonia Gandhi and the Congress than of Carla Bruni [Images], who comes from Italy as well (and who is now married to French President Nicholas Sarkozy)."

"India is a diverse country with so many languages. I don't see any role for her in Italy. If she walks down the lane here, people may not know her. She has given up her earlier identity as a choice which has turned out pretty well for her," the journalist adds.

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