TWO LEGENDS OF INDIA: INDIRA AND SONIA GANDHI
The Nehru–Gandhi family is a political dynasty closely related to the early history of independent India and dominating in the Indian National Congress for almost a century. It gave India three Prime Ministers including Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi’s widow, didn’t become the fourth Prime Minister from this family. She declined the premiership in 2004. However, Sonia Gandhi was the fifth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family who was the president of the Indian National Congress. In 2017, after 19 years of being the party’s leader, she passed her position to her son Rahul Gandhi.
The Moscow-Delhi economic dialogue is expected to continue under his leadership. In 2017, Russia and India celebrated the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations, which started in 1950s when Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s Prime Minister. According to Sonia Gandhi, it is impossible to overestimate his daughter’s contribution to the development of the dialogue between the two countries. Indira Gandhi, the first and the only female Prime Minister of India, took the Indo-Soviet link to a new level. The USSR substantially supported India during the Bangladesh's War of Independence. Indira Gandhi never forgot that.
As the head of Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum, Sonia Gandhi finds it symbolical that Moscow was the first place outside of India to display the photo exhibition titled ‘Indira: Light and Shadows’. The exhibition is about a courageous, compelling and charismatic leader. Indira Gandhi left an indelible imprint not only on her own country and the India-USSR relationship but also on the world stage.
“There was a genuine warmth and a rare chemistry between Indira Gandhi and the Russian leaders”, said Sonia Gandhi when opening the exhibition in April 2018. In fact, the exhibition was held in conjunction with the centenary anniversary of Indira Gandhi, who was “an influential and tireless global voice for peace and disarmament” and Sonia Gandhi’s mother-in-law.
However, good relations between Sonia Gandhi and Indira Gandhi didn’t develop immediately. Contemporaries of Indira Gandhi said she would have rather preferred someone from India’s political elite to become her son’s wife.
Sonia’s parents didn’t want her to be brought abroad and be involved in such a different culture. Adopting a foreigner in a miniskirt was a risky thing for Rajiv Gandhi’s family too. However, Indira didn’t prevent her son from making his own choice.
Sonia was nervous about meeting Rajiv's mother, but Indira Gandhi was an open-minded person and even flew to London to meet her would-be daughter-in-law. That is how the family accepted Sonia and Rajiv’s relationship. Their marriage took place in 1968. At the ceremony, Sonia Gandhi wore the same pink sari her mother-in-law had worn at her own wedding. After the wedding, Sonia and Rajiv moved in with Indira Gandhi who had become Prime Minister by that time, having inherited that position from her father Jawaharlal Nehru. He became the Prime Minister after India’s establishment as an independent nation in 1947. With time, Sonia Gandhi’s relationship with her mother-in-law became deeper. She became a faithful wife and obedient daughter-in-law running the household. Sonia Gandhi traded her miniskirts for saris and gradually immersed in India’s culture. She even learned Hindi, and Indira contributed to that greatly.
Indira Gandhi was a person with a wide range of interests. “She counted academicians, scientists, authors, poets, sculptors, painters and musicians across the world as her close personal friends - a good number of them from your country”, said Sonia Gandhi and stressed that many of them were from Russia.
Politics was Indira’s vocation but nature was her passion. She was among the first world political leaders to take up the cause of environmental protection. “She was only one of two heads of government to address the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm in June 1972. Even while she was preoccupied with political matters, she was concerned about the Siberian crane. Just a few days before she was assassinated, India and the USSR signed a treaty for the protection of migratory birds”, commented Sonia Gandhi.
After her mother-in-law passed away, Sonia Gandhi collected and edited letters between Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. They were published in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Initially, Sonia Gandhi planned to have a quiet life of a homemaker. She opposed to her husband’s going into politics being afraid of the fact that politics would ruin their love and family. It was dangerous to become a politician in India. After his mother’s and brother’s deaths Rajiv was the only living member of the Nehru–Gandhi dynasty, and his wife had resign to the fact he was to head the Indian National Congress and then India’s government. She immersed in the role of the Prime Minister's wife and was his vigilant supporter for five years until his assassination.
After losing her husband, Ms. Gandhi for some time avoided appearing in public. She remembered her husband’s words about the surname ‘Gandhi’. He said it lays him under certain obligation. Feeling the power of this surname, Sonia Gandhi continued her mother-in-law and husband’s business and went into politics in 1998. Indira Gandhi remained a role model for her. Sonia painstakingly studied videos with her mother-in-law’s public performances. She took on her posture, intonation, tastes, and fashion style. Ms. Gandhi will show all that when visiting the Second Eurasian Women’s Forum. The Forum takes place in Saint Petersburg on September 20-21, 2018.
Tina Stankevich, news agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov