Mumbai: Even before Javier Moro’s biography of Sonia Gandhi,Red Saree, releases in India, the Congress is demanding that it be banned. Moro’s book is already a best-seller in Spanish and Italian.
In an email interview with Mint, Moro talks about how he researched the book, traced Gandhi’s friends and relatives, and what he left out from it and why.
When and why did you decide to write a book on Sonia Gandhi?
When Rajiv was assassinated. I watched his cremation on TV, and that is when I thought that it would be a good idea to tell the story of this family through the point of view of Sonia, a woman with whom readers all around the world can easily identify. Then, when she won the elections in 2004, I had a good ending for the story. The premise is fabulous: how a woman whose only ambition in life was to be a housewife ended up ruling a country of one billion people.
Did you approach her for interviews? What kind of responses did you get from her?
I approached her through her friends and family, but she never received me… Neither her daughter nor any member of her family. Thank God, because I realize now that I would never had been able to write the book with the liberty I’d written it.
Who was the first person you met for an interview and where?
I got a good interview with Usha Bhagat, who had been Indira Gandhi’s secretary for 15 years. Then I interviewed people in the village where she was born and in the town where she lived her teen years. One of them, Josto Maffeo, a friend from her school years, was the son of the local commander of the police station and happens to be an important journalist today. He gave me very valuable insights. There are others, of course.
How is Sonia Gandhi viewed in Lusiana and in Italy?
She is viewed as a renegade. They do not understand that she pretends not to know Italian anymore, that she gives interviews to Italian journalists in English. You can be born in Italy and become Indian, as she has. Nobody questions that. Italy is a big country where there is room for everybody, at least that is what the fathers of the nation had wanted. But do you really need to hide your origins in such a rude way? Is it necessary to hurt people by disowning the country of birth where she lived for 20 years? Many Italians feel insulted by her behaviour. I am sure she knows that.
Who gave you the most insightful views and information on her in ?
All the people I interviewed, from the neighbours in Lusiana to Danilo, her father’s best friend, her teachers, the nuns at Giaveno, the friend who introduced her to Rajiv.
What are their most vivid memories of her?
Most of them speak very highly of her. There is no doubt she is a great lady.
How long did it take you to write the book? Is it a best-seller in the countries it has been released in? Can you give us some latest figures?
It took me 3 years to research and write it. I looked for everything that had been published about the family in books, magazines and articles. And there is a lot, believe me. It is open information, accessible to all. After 3 years of research, I decided to write it like a novel, like a sweeping saga. I wanted the characters to come alive so that the readers could fully live through their conflicts, their difficult choices, their happy and tragic moments. The book is a success in all the countries it has come out.
What are some of the things that you did not incorporate when writing the book?
Many things. I did not want to include any hard criticism against Rajiv Gandhi or Indira Gandhi, because I wanted the story to be told through the point of view of Sonia Gandhi, and she viewed them as family. I did not include a violent post-war episode involving her father, as I did not fully trust the sources. I barely mentioned Bofors and Quattrochi because I am totally convinced the Gandhi’s are honest.
When is the book going to be released in India?
When Sonia Gandhi’s lawyers stop terrorizing Indian publishers not to publish it.
What is your reaction to the Congress party’s reaction to the book?
Utter disappointment. But I still hope some clever guys with common sense will be able to see that this book is a boon for the Gandhi, the party, and especially for Sonia.