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'From waitress to world leader'

May 17, 2004 17:54 IST

Sonia Gandhi, the daughter of an Italian housebuilder, is likely to become's India's new Prime Minister this week - the culmination of a political career that had its beginnings in a Greek restaurant in Cambridge, says the Times, London.

Tracing her background, the paper says: "Mrs Gandhi was an 18-year-old student at a small language college in Cambridge in 1965, making ends meet by working as a waitress in the Varsity restaurant, when she met a handsome young engineering student."

"As our eyes met for the first time, I could feel my heart pounding . . . as far as I was concerned, it was love at first sight," she wrote later in a rare moment of self-revelation, the paper said. "I had a vague idea that India existed somewhere in the world with its snakes, elephants and jungles, but exactly where it was and what it was really all about, I was not sure.

She later told her family: "I've fallen in love with an Indian. He is a sportsman. He's the blue prince I always dreamt of." 

Three years later, Sonia Maino, the daughter of a modest Roman Catholic family from Orbassano, near Turin, married Rajiv Gandhi, who went on to become India's prime minister two decades later.

In 1965, Sonia Maino was briefly a student at the Bell School of Languages. It is understood that she studied for the Cambridge diploma, a now defunct six-week course in English literature and language for overseas students, the paper said.

'The young Miss Maino took work babysitting and as a waitress at the Greek restaurant and found life in the university city quite different from small-town Piedmont.  She was eating at the restaurant one evening when Gandhi - whose place at Trinity College had been achieved through family connections with the Master, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden - slipped into the chair beside her,' said the article.

But her time in Cambridge also created some political difficulties for Mrs Gandhi.  Her entry in the Indian parliamentary Who's Who contains the false claim that she was a Cambridge University scholar, an "error" repeated frequently in the media. Cambridge has confirmed that it has no record of her attending the university, the Times said.

Former defence minister George Fernandes accuses Mrs Gandhi of allowing the confusion to arise.  "Cambridge does not have a diploma course in English," and the incorrect biography showed that Mrs Gandhi was "a woman who lies about even small things," he said.

Mrs Gandhi's supporters dismiss the controversy saying the Who's Who entry was either an editorial error or just a "thoughtless mistake," and say that she is being singled out for vitriol because of her foreign origins, Catholic religion and gender, said the paper.

'Coaxed out of her reclusive lifestyle to save the Congress movement, Mrs Gandhi, 57, now finds herself on the brink of power. She will become the fourth Gandhi to hold power in India and the first European to rule since Lord Mountbatten of Burma. It has been a long journey from the days when she was a carefree teenager who once shocked India by wearing a miniskirt. Today,  she regards herself as "completely Indian," ' said the Times.  

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