The pandit Sonia always meets
'You have no idea how well versed she is with Indian tradition. The way she covers her head, does aarti, listens to the shlokas... maloom nahin pad raha tha ki unme kuch pashchatya sabhayata ki jhalak hai (You cannot see Western culture in her).'
Meet Pandit Radheshyam, the priest who conducts a havan before Sonia Gandhi files her nominations from Rae Bareli. In exclusive conversation with Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com
Nothing, not even God, can make Congress chief Sonia Gandhi lose in Rae Bareli, say voters. It has primarily been and remains a Nehru constituency since 1951 beginning with Jawaharlal's son-in-law Feroze Gandhi, followed by Nehru's only child Indira Gandhi and now Indira Gandhi's daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi; one loss to the Janata Party and two losses to the Bharatiya Janata Party nothwithstanding.
Sonia Gandhi has held the seat since 2004 and despite some rumblings of disaffection, remains a clear favourite.
But Sonia, apparently, leaves nothing to providence and so when she filed her nomination papers from Rae Bareli on April 2, the first pit-stop was at the party office where she performed a havan.
"The auspicious time to file her nomination was between 11 am and 2 pm; the day, Wednesday. She arrived at 11:40 am with Rahul Gandhi and we began the puja," says Pandit Radheshyam, whose grandfather performed a havan for Indira Gandhi when she filed her nomination papers here in 1967.
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Image: Sonia Gandhi conducts the puja with complete faith, says Pandit Radheshyam.
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com
'I have seen her horoscope, and it says that she is lucky for the people'
"It's a havan dedicated to Lord Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, and will guarantee victory," the priest explains and says it has been a ritual with 'Madam' since 2004.
"You have no idea how well versed she is with Indian tradition. The way she covers her head, does aarti, listens to the shlokas... maloom nahin pad raha tha ki unme kuch pashchatya sabhayata ki jhalak hai (You cannot see Western culture in her)."
He says 90 per cent of Rae Bareli wants to maintain its ties with the Nehru family. "The elderly people think of her as their bahu. People can say anything about poor roads, or lack of development, but we are not voting for the party, we are voting for the family. I have seen her horoscope, and it says that she is lucky for the people," he says.
Recalling the nomination day, he said she performed the puja with puri nishtha (complete faith). "She has offered puja so many times, I barely have to guide her. Her knowledge of Sanskrit is limited, but if I tell her in Hindi, 'durba lijiya (pick up the grass)' or 'chandan lijiye (pick up the sandalwood)," she understands, says the pandit.
"After the hawan, madam ne haath jodke kaha, 'humein safalta mile (Sonia asked him to pray for her success)'," he says.
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Image: Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, alongside Pandit Radheshyam, conduct a havan at the Congress office in Rae Bareli last month.
Photographs: Courtesy: Congress party/Twitter
'I told her all we want is that she should make us feel proud to belong to Rae Bareli'
He doesn't charge a fee. In 2004, when she filed her nomination papers from Rae Bareli for the first time, the pandit had told her he did not want a dakshina (fee).
"I told her all we want is that she should make us feel proud to belong to Rae Bareli. Since then we don't talk about dakshina."
Other than the Nehrus, people from other parties have also approached him, but only to ask for an auspicious time for a puja. "Hamare upar mohar lage hue hain (I have the Congress stamp)," he smiles. "Nobody will come to me from other parties saying, 'do a havan for our victory."
"In any case, I won't be able to do it -- na man se, na dhang se (neither by thought nor by deed). How can I tell a candidate who is opposing madam, "Vijayi bhav (be victorious) when I don't want him to win?"
Image: Nobody will come to me from other parties saying, 'do a hawan for our victory', says Radheshyam
Photographs: Reuben N V/Rediff.com