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Sonia Gandhi opens up about her family

Last updated on: December 17, 2010 19:28 IST

Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and California First Lady Maria Shriver
Photographs: Reuters

A classified United States Cable titled 'A Garrulous Sonia Gandhi Opens Up to Maria Shriver' describes a meeting between the Congress chief and California's first lady in August 2006.

Shriver is the wife of Governor Arnold Shwarznegger.

Shriver and Gandhi talked for over an hour, and the discussion was "lively and open and covered many issues, both personal and political," says the US embassy cable.

"Usually withdrawn and reserved in public, she spoke at great length and radiated confidence on womens' issues and some aspects of her private life. At times suppressing her emotions, she spoke about the compulsions of political life, her parents' objections to her marriage to Rajiv Gandhi and the sacrifices she and her family have made," says the cable.

'She urged her husband repeatedly to avoid politics'

Image: A file photo of Sonia with Rajiv Gandhi

"Shriver explained that she was concerned with women's issues, including sexual abuse and exploitation and trafficking. Gandhi replied that the situation for women in India is more troubling and traumatic than that in the US and other developed countries, as Indian women must deal with myriad problems not found in the west, such as child labour," says the cable.

In a rare insight into her personal life, the Congress president spoke about her late husband Rajiv Gandhi.

"She revealed that after her mother in law's murder, Rajiv Gandhi was under intense pressure to take up the political mantle of the Gandhi family, but both Rajiv and Sonia were intensely personal and had no interest in politics. She urged her husband repeatedly to avoid politics, but he insisted," says the cable.

'After Rajiv's assassination, Mrs Gandhi withdrew'

Image: Sonia Gandhi with daughter Priyanka

Sonia continued to keep a low profile even after Rajiv became the PM, and stayed away from politics.

"After her husband's assassination, Mrs Gandhi withdrew, working only on a charitable foundation established in Rajiv's memory," the cable states.

But when "the right was becoming strong in India and Congress weak," Sonia decided to enter politics. Though both her children were against the idea, they pledged to support her decision.

Sonia also spoke reluctantly about one of the most speculated episodes of her political career, when she refused to take up the prime ministerial post and offered it to Manmohan Singh, after the United Progressive Alliance's victory in the 2004 polls.

'I will write a book someday'

Image: Posters of Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

"I am often asked about this, but tell people that I will write a book someday with the whole story," Sonia told Shriver.

She also clarified that she has never regretted that decision, though admitting that her party workers were very upset by her decision.

Sonia told Shriver that she "travels constantly all over India, often to remote areas to visit the common people".

"It is only by going out and interacting with people that we are in a better position to understand their problems and determine what they want," she said.

'Women are seen as goddesses' in India

Image: Sonia Gandhi attends a women's meet in Srinagar
Photographs: Reuters

Explaining the cultural and geographical diversity within India, Sonia said that south India was 'more progressive' than the North in terms of the condition of women.

Sonia pointed out the irony of Indian society that while oppression of women was common in India, "women are seen as goddesses and no puja (worship) can take place without them".

Sonia also spoke about her parent's opposition to marrying Rajiv, admitting that she "resented their position"

'Her basic Italian personality is clearly evident'

Image: Sonia Gandhi with US President Barack Obama
Photographs: Reuters

The cable observes, "Sonia Gandhi is often stiff and detached when in public. This was a more relaxed Sonia, possibly because she felt a personal rapport with Maria Shriver.  Deeply hurt by personal tragedy, she has erected a strong and stoic persona to prevent public access to her personal space. Whenever she spoke of the deaths of her husband and mother-in-law, she struggled to keep her emotions in check."

"Despite her carefully erected Indian persona, her basic Italian personality is clearly evident in her mannerisms, speech and interests. She presents an intriguing enigma of a warm private personality that remains concealed and is available only to her closest confidants and family members," says the cable.