Book: The Accidental Prime Minister
Author: Sanjaya Baru
Publisher: Penguin/301 pages
There was also very little social contact between the families of the two leaders. Mrs Kaur and Sonia met rarely, except at official functions and banquets. Rarely, too, did Dr Singh's daughters or Sonia's children join the Congress president and the prime minister at social gatherings.
On the odd occasion, Sonia would call on Dr Singh to discuss family matters. There were, after all, few family elders available to give her advice on things that may have bothered her in her personal life. While she was very close to her mother, her father had passed away. Rajiv's friends, like Satish Sharma, Sam Pitroda and Suman Dubey, were all her age. I was aware that on at least one occasion she came to see Dr Singh to discuss her concerns about Rahul's personal plans.
Following that conversation, Dr Singh invited Rahul for lunch and the two spent time together.
In private, Sonia often addressed Dr Singh as Manmohan, which, given her Western background, suggested she felt more familial in her relationship with him than with other senior leaders of his generation. Dr Singh, for his part, always referred to her as Soniaji or Mrs Gandhi and treated her with old-fashioned courtesy. At the annual UPA anniversary function at 7 RCR he always made it a point to stand up on the dais when Sonia stood up to walk to the podium and deliver her speech, a practice that other Congressmen did not follow. Culturally, it is a Western gesture for a man to stand up when a woman does and women are not expected to reciprocate, so Sonia naturally did not. But Delhi's journalists, who were always watching the two like hawks at public events for evidence that the PM was more deferential to her than he needed to be, would draw my attention to the leaders' 'body language' with wicked smiles.
When Sonia turned sixty, Dr Singh sent her a personal letter praising her courage and fortitude. She had been widowed at a young age, and had to bring up her children in the very difficult social and security context of Delhi. And, she had allowed herself to be persuaded to take on the mantle of party presidency by Congressmen who feared the party would disintegrate without her at the helm. Recounting these facts, Dr Singh praised her for her courage and her poise in the face of such adversity and for the energy and wisdom with which she had led the Congress party back to power.
Sonia and Dr Singh's warm personal equation was also evident in little gestures he made to show his concern for her welfare, like always calling her to check how she was whenever she took ill.
I had no reason to doubt that Dr Singh and Sonia implicitly trusted each other. Reports appearing in the media about differences between the two were often planted by disgruntled Congressmen and mischievous journalists, some of whom would then point a finger in my direction. That did not mean the two had no differences on policy issues. But any such differences between them would have been aired only in their private meetings and the PM almost never allowed any of this to trickle into the public realm.
Excerpted with permission from Penguin Group