No single family has dominated Indian politics-and the Indian media-as much as the Gandhis. Collectively, they have changed the face of this country in decisive ways. The impact has been both negative and positive but they have been, and continue to be, a source of endless fascination for the public. The allure of the Gandhis continues with Rajiv's widow Sonia, now chairperson of the ruling coalition, and her son Rahul, a first-time MP who is clearly being groomed for bigger things. He accompanied Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his official visit to Afghanistan, the first overt sign that his political stars are on the rise. Last month, he was sent as an official representative to Germany for a conference on governance.
Indira Gandhi was distant with the media and allowed limited scope for interaction. Her son, Rajiv, was my classmate in school. When he was first hijacked into politics by his mother in 1980 after Sanjay's death, he had a genuine distaste for politics which was shared by Sonia. In spite of the controversies that dogged his political career, Rajiv was inherently a decent, open and charming man. Destiny, however, was cruel. For a woman who abhorred politics, Sonia is now the lynchpin of the whole political equation. The transformation of Sonia from a shy, Hindi-stuttering housewife to an assured, business-like political leader is one of the most amazing transformations I have seen in Indian politics. In the last general elections, she satisfied the undying dynastic thirst of her party by making Rahul contest from Amethi, from where Sanjay, Rajiv and she have contested in the past.
What strikes me is the eerie similarity between Rajiv's induction into politics and that of Rahul. Shy and somewhat introverted at the start, unsure of their exact role. Rajiv had an innate charm emboldened by his attractive personality and looks. Rahul is much the same. Today, with Rahul spreading his political wings, we ask the same question we asked on our cover story on Rajiv in 1981, "Will the cap fit?", when he had just filed his nomination papers for elections in Amethi. Rahul has been an MP for 15 months and his public interaction has been reserved for Amethi.
Our cover story fleshes out the man by talking to a range of people who know him on a personal and political level. That includes Assistant Editor Priya Sahgal who researched and wrote the story. Sahgal was his senior at St Stephen's and actually ragged him. I remember a Doon School reunion when we were posing for a group photograph and I was asked to kneel in the front row. Rajiv, sitting behind me, joked: "I finally have the media at my feet." In Rahul's case, his clean image, appealing good looks and the Gandhi name means he has at least the Congress party at his feet. Whether the cap fits or not, only time will tell.