The Book Everyone Waited For Long
When the book came out, more questions have arisen and mystery shrouds about the source of information to the author
It is finally available in India. And no wonder with the controversies and legal threats about it for several years, Javier Moro’s book The Red Sari (El Sari Rojo in Spanish), a ‘fictionalised biography’ of Sonia Gandhi sold out at all major book stores within hours. It had done exceedingly well when it came out in 2008 in Italy and Spain too, selling over 230,000 copies.
An aura of mystery surrounded the book. After all it was about Sonia Gandhi, member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and de facto head of state in India for a decade. Curiosity about its contents had been roused since its launch in Spain and Italy.
Almost all dailies and magazines published extracts or did reviews. The extensive coverage made everyone, including the thousands who had rushed to buy the book wonder what the hullabaloo was all about.
Most of the eager-beaver buyers who got a copy of the book ostensibly expected to read some explosive revelations about the Maino family and about Sonia Gandhi and as a bonus a few lurid details of her earlier life or during the UPA, when for the first time several allegations were made against her, felt a bit cheated. Voyeurism is one of the human weaknesses.
The coverage, both through publications of extracts—running into four to six pages—notwithstanding, the mystery remains, why so many threats and legal notices were given to Moro, since 2009 when the book was to be published in English in India?
The paradox is that Sonia Gandhi must have come to know about the contents of the book when it came out in Italy and Spain in 2008. Her brother-in-law is a senior Spanish diplomat. Even if we presume that Moro did not consult him about Sonia while writing her biography, he would have been one of the first to read the book.
Through him or her family, she would have got a copy of the book and known what was written about her. She has been portrayed as a loving wife, dutiful daughter-in-law and an ideal wife of a Prime Minister conducting herself with dignity. Her sorrow at the death of Rajiv too has been presented with obvious restraint, so as to not damage her dignity as a widow of a Prime Minister.
At A Glance: Congress Party’s Rebuttal To Moro’s Writings
- On page 8 (of a manuscript in circulation), he (Moro) has assumed, entirely erroneously, that the Hindu priests “refused to allow her to be present at the cremation” (following her husband’s death).
- Mr Moro has an obsession with Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s alleged desire to leave India for Italy. This theme recurs time and again and two examples are given below.
(i) On page 16 of the manuscript, he states “she suddenly thought of fleeing this country that devours its children…”. Mr Moro’s conclusion is completely baseless, subjective and patently absurd.
(ii) On page 176, Moro again fabricates a personal conversation between members of the family about leaving India for Italy. It is an impossible conversation to report unless he was present (which he could not possibly be), apart from being completely untrue.
- On page 96, his conclusion that “Sonia did not understand why she had to learn a language only spoken by the servants”—a condescending reference to Hindi—is nothing but his purely subjective and imaginary conclusion.
- Mr Moro has placed Mrs Sonia Gandhi at the centre of events leading to declaration of Emergency and the decision-making process in relation thereto.
- On page 163, he has fabricated an incident as if he was present in the very corridor where “Sonia went to tell him (i.e. Rajiv) at three o’clock in the morning, that after having helped Indira to complete the draft of the speech that was going to announce the state of Emergency to the people, Siddartha Shankar Ray was getting ready to leave when he met secretary Dhawan in the corridor. Dhawan told him, ‘The steps have now been taken to cut off the electricity supply to the main newspapers of the country and to close the courts’.”
- Similarly on page 138, Moro has reproduced alleged remarks of Mr Sanjay Gandhi when he was an apprentice in the UK that: “Look, the British have f****d with India for centuries, and now I’ve come here to f***k with England.” This reveals the degree of Mr Moro’s inventiveness which is not only highly defamatory but cheap, vulgar and crude. How he can possibly attribute these words in quotation marks is beyond our contemplation.
Faced with the obvious and incontrovertible position of not having any personal knowledge, nor any documentary proof, nor any other supporting data, Mr Moro decided to take refuge in the idea of a so-called “fictionalised biography”. A “fictionalised biography” about a living person is an oxymoron.
Any false and derogatory writing, that is admitted to be without authorisation or consent, is patently slanderous, libellous and defamatory. It is also interesting and curious that in Italy and Spain, the book has been reviewed largely as a “biography” and not as fiction or a novel. In a Spanish interview available on YouTube, Moro himself describes it as “a book of non-fiction” & as belonging to the genre of “non-fiction dramatised”. (VD)
In fact, throughout the book, which covers the Indira Gandhi family extensively, although it is all woven around Sonia, there is a surfeit of revelations about significant political decisions during a rather turbulent period: the declaration of Emergency, the death of Sanjay, tussle between Sonia Gandhi and party bigwigs over the induction of Rajiv into politics and then his assassination, the reasons for Sonia to refuse Prime Minister’s gaddi in 2004. This one is a revelation.
Moro has written about how much Indira Gandhi adored Sonia, which again is a credit to her adjustment to Indian ways and her assimilation in the family values. He describes in detail a nervous 20-year-old Sonia’s first meeting with not only her prospective mother-in-law but a strong Prime Minister of India. On Sonia tearing the hemming of her dress, the motherly instinct made Indira Gandhi pick up a needle and thread to rectify the hemming. The intimacy built that day between the two only strengthened over years. The decision to throw out Maneka has also been dealt in detail and Moro narrates Indira Gandhi’s love for her grandson, the son of Sanjay. She let him go only after consulting lawyers. Her love for Varun is not shared by Sonia. So much details about the family since mid-70s in the book makes us wonder how Moro secured them. His source of information on private conversations, decisions and conduct of the members of the family cannot be just based on newspapers. It has to be someone or more persons who were either close to the family or were/are related to the Gandhis who briefed him.
Moro evades accepting that someone close or a relative of the family briefed him, instead he tries to get away from such uncomfortable questions by saying that the book is a dramatised and fictionalised biography. Well, it could be in parts, but not all the narrations of great political significance. He has possibly sought refuge with his dramatised and fictionalised assertion to save himself from libel suit and charge of being untruthful and guilty of distorting facts. Why then so many notices and legal threats were issued to Moro about his book which was dubbed by the Congress as Book of Lies. All the main characters are dead, now only Sonia Gandhi could take umbrage. But she has been presented in the best possible light. As portrayed she evokes sympathy and admiration by the people of India. Moro has put her on a pedestal.
Sonia Gandhi’s dilemma at various stages of her life, first as a 20-year-old in love with Rajiv Gandhi, then as a foreigner entering the Family number one and her excellent role as a Prime Minister’s wife—putting aside her initial reluctance against Rajiv’s induction into politics—have been narrated with a lot of flair.
What could be considered as bonus is that Moro’s book relates details of several events which impacted on the contemporary history of the country. He has talked about Indira Gandhi’s assassination and most surprisingly her personal equations with Jayaprakash Narayan. Very few people know that when she went to see him in Patna, just a few days before his death, Jayaprakash Narayan with folded hands sought her forgiveness for all the trouble he gave her. Hearing this she cried.
The events leading to declaration of Emergency have been detailed, although they are contrary to what President Pranab Mukherjee has written in his book. Moro says after the news of her losing the Allahabad High Court case on June 12, 1975 was conveyed to her by Rajiv, she agreed with him that resignation was the way out. However, once Sanjay returned to the house, he spoke to her privately, after which she changed her mind and decided to fight it out.
President Pranab Mukherjee’s account is that Siddhartha Shankar Ray had impressed upon Indira Gandhi to clamp the Emergency, and instead claims that it was former Defence Minister Bansi Lal who convinced Sanjay Gandhi and who in turn was able to persuade his mother not to quit from her august office and explore options like imposing the Emergency. Indira asked Ray to find the justification and he, after consulting some law books, finally gave his opinion in favour of meeting. The challenge posed by an open call to the armed forces by Jayaprakash Narayan not to obey government orders.
Questions That Remain Unanswered
- How did Javier Moro get to know personal conversations and privately taken decisions? His saying that it is all dramatised and fictional does not wash! Many narrations about serious subjects like the imposition of Emergency or throwing out of Maneka Gandhi etc cannot be fictionalised.
- Who could have briefed Moro? The Spanish diplomat, aides of Indira and Sonia Gandhi.
- If the contents of the book were known, why there was panic in Sonia’s camp to stop publication of the book?
- Was all the hullaballoo created to promote sales?
- Has Moro ever met Sonia or her Spanish brother-in-law or any other senior Congressman?
- As the Indian print of the book was slated or was to be published in 2015, why was the book not updated? Since 2008, a lot happened with Sonia being the central figure. (VD)
Moro presents the drama of Sonia declining the Prime Minister’s chair very well and uses a dialogue apparently by Priyanka Gandhi to explain the matter. “Priyanka is less diplomatic. She is asked if it is true that she and her brother influenced their mother.” She responds, “We have lost a father and we do not wish to lose a mother. It is a family matter. We have never been masters of our own family. We have always shared it with the nation.”
This confirms K. Natwar Singh’s assertion in his latest book that it was at the instance of her own family that Sonia Gandhi decided to listen to her inner voice and security concerns, thereby rejecting the opportunity to be the head of the government of the world’s largest democracy in May 2004. The question arises once again. Why the legal cell of the Party told Moro that he was indulging in ‘gross prevarication and distortion’. It further accused Moro that ‘his book is full of untruths, half-truths, falsehoods, defamatory statements….invented conversations within quotation marks and narration of non-existent situations.’ The British media had covered the tussle between Moro and Abhishek Singhvi quite extensively. This way the British learnt about the book. The Daily Telegraph, London on June 4, 2010 reported under the heading Sonia Gandhi Fights To Ban ‘Book Of Lies’ that ‘the Italian head of India’s ruling Congress Party and widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, has launched a legal campaign to stop the publication of a “fictionalised biography” based on her life. Mrs. Gandhi has taken exception to her portrayal in “The Red Sari” – by the Spanish writer Javier Moro – as a snob who wanted to leave India following her husband’s 1991 assassination. The book also portrays her as a central figure in Indira Gandhi’s 1975 imposition of Emergency rule.
Authors and filmmakers have been drawn to the romance and tragedy of Mrs. Gandhi’s life. Lawyers for Mrs Gandhi described the book as “full of untruths…completely imaginary and invented conversations”. They said she would “take all steps to protect and defend herself and her family”. The report zeroed on the reasons of Sonia’s disquiet with the book. She appears to have been most wounded by its claim that she had wanted to leave India, describing it as “this country that devours its children” and had complained about having to learn to speak Hindi. In the book, Mr Moro writes that “Sonia did not understand why she had to learn a language only spoken by the servants”. Both were potentially damaging for Mrs. Gandhi whose Italian nationality is used against her by opponents and whose supporters are overwhelmingly poor Hindi speaking voters.
Moro defended his claim that she had wanted to leave India. “There were articles in the Italian papers. After her husband died, her mother called, and it’s logical that she asked, “When are you coming home?” It’s not far-fetched, it’s a literary licence,” he said. An unauthorised “fictional biography” of Sonia Gandhi has angered the leader of India’s Congress party—prompting threats from her lawyer to block its publication, noted The Times. “Javier Moro, a Spanish writer, says his book El Sari Rojo (The Red Sari), which has already sold 230,000 copies, dramatises the tale of the Nehru-Gandhi family, told through the story of Sonia Gandhi and is not meant to be a conventional biography.” Mrs Gandhi’s lawyer says that the book, about to be published in English, is full of distortions. The Gandhi camp is particularly incensed by the way she is depicted as a victim of her Hindu environment.
‘Mr. Moro’s account, about to come out in English, dwells on her relatively modest upbringing in Italy before she met Rajiv Gandhi while studying in Cambridge and moved to India to be his wife in 1968.’ Such widespread comments about the attempts by her lawyers to stop the book from being published in India raises the question, if even half of these charges are true, why Sonia or her party sent no notice to Moro when it was released in Italy and Europe in 2008? At least not with the same degree of vehemence as in 2010, when the book was to be printed in India! Does it mean that she did not bother what the Europeans read about her, but it mattered as to what her subjects, in India did.
One plausible reason can be that since for the Congressmen the Gandhis are Royalty, the royal family abhors its private life becoming public. After all after three prime ministers de jure and one (Sonia) de facto head of the government, if the Congressmen believed (so far) that the Gandhis have had the (divine) right to rule India, then any chink in their armour would be unwelcome.
And the Moro book does reveal quite a few weaknesses of, and doubts in Sonia about Indian ethos and political culture. The most important point to ponder over, forgetting the charges made by Dr Singhvi, is how authentic are his narrations of various conversations of Sonia with her family?
Moro has a ready answer to that. He says this is why he has called the book dramatised and fictionalised. This means the conversations have a touch of fiction. He also claims that he did send manuscript of the book to Sonia Gandhi, but there was no response from her. If this is true, why the plethora of notices?
Overall the book not only puts Sonia on a pedestal but evokes sympathy for her. What more can she want!.
A stray thought: were all the notices and angry outbursts of Dr Singhvi, attempts to “terrorise” Indian publishers not to print the book—after all Pramod Kapoor of Roli Books says he was not under any pressure (not to publish)—all sales gimmick. The low pricing is obviously to make the book within the reach of larger number of people.
If this is so, the amazing sales, affirm that their efforts have succeeded. In summarising one can say that the book tells Indians nothing new. Ultimately, Sonia will be judged by the people through their own conclusions and not according to Moro’s portrayal of her’s. Indeed they have judged her, the results of various elections have reiterated what their view about Sonia is.
He admits the book is a dramatised and fictionalised biography. It makes for an interesting reading. Let’s leave it at that. Another Moro’s “fictionalised” para “Sonia Gandhi simply cannot believe that the man she loves is dead, and she will no longer feel his caresses or the warmth of his kisses. She will never again see that sweet smile that one day swept her off her feet.”
This could be piece de resistance in Manohar Kahaniya, which used to sell over half a million copies. One young man stood in the middle of the Howrah Bridge and then jumped in the Hooghly. In Manohar Kahaniya his thoughts before he jumped was related in a couple of pages, emotively. How did the author know what were the last thoughts of the one who committed suicide? By psychic imagining of his last moments! Moro also seems to have psychic powers.
The book too like Manohar Kahaniya makes for interesting read and will sell remarkably well. Nothing more, nothing less!
By Vijay Dutt