Wednesday 19 February 2014

Brother Ahmed, now tell us about Sonia (Niti Central)

MD Nalapat18 Feb 2014

Brother Ahmed, now tell us about Sonia
Hand it to Ahmed Patel, he has never hankered for a ‘lal batti’ or the army of flunkeys that accompanies a Minister, preferring the raw reality of power to the glittering excess of the form of pseudo-power that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for example, revels in. Despite the fact that this writer has not been widely perceived as an admirer of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and that indeed more than one uncharitable soul has insinuated that he has “something personal” against the charming mother of Rahul and Priyanka, Ahmed Patel has been friendly and courteous on the rare occasions when we have met.
Perhaps he accepted my explanation that the assessments of Sonia were not based on personal pique, but came from a belief that her leadership would ultimately turn out to be a disaster both for India as well as for the party that her family owns. In 1995, when this was first expressed in print (in the editorial pages of the Times of India), the landscape of those negative about a person who is admittedly very charming when she chooses to be was as denuded of people as a landscape. Since around 2010 (a long wait, it must be admitted), the ‘desert’ has filled up rapidly, so that these days, it would appear that there are far more detractors of the Congress president than there are admirers. It has been an amusing sight to watch those who used to hector and even avoid the present writer for his refusal to join the Sonia bandwagon now search for the most uncomplimentary of phrases to describe her.
There are no two people more in thrall to Sonia Gandhi than AK Antony and Ahmed Patel, and it must be painful in the extreme for them to see their idol being excoriated daily, publicly by the BJP leaders (including those who helped her immensely during the six years when A B Vajpayee was PM) and privately by an increasing number of worthies within her own party. Which is why it is surprising that the most potent arrow in the Sonia quiver is as yet unmentioned, much less unused. This is the fact that it is not simply Narendra Modi who came from an underprivileged background, but Sonia Gandhi herself. Friends in Italy confirm that the lady’s family was in dire economic straits in the 1960s, when she met and married Rajiv Gandhi. Since then, especially during the 1980s, the fortunes of the Maino family have soared, no doubt because of their commitment to hard work and to professional excellence. It would be churlish in the extreme to attribute their financial success to Ottavio Quatrocchi or to the many business deals that this middleman was instrumental in securing. Although neither Sonia nor her two sisters managed to get past high school, all three are clearly possessed of loads of brainpower. In a way, their trajectory is equivalent to that followed by Bill Gates, who developed Microsoft despite being a college dropout.

Ahmed Patel has wisely remained silent throughout much of his political career. However, this lack of loquacity has deserted him these days, as witness the fact that he has joined the ranks of the swelling number of scholars who are biographers of Narendra Modi. This columnist admits to himself writing, in the Sunday Guardian, that Modi’s “first job was to be a tea boy, his second the Chief Ministership of Gujarat and the third is likely to be the Prime Minister of India”.

This was after meeting a fair amount of people in Gujarat who each – and independently of each other – claimed that their CM had once made tea and sold it in earthen pots, usually along with his father. There are some who are so politically correct that they wish not to offend manual workers by calling them such. They are the ones who changed the designation of “peon” into “office attender” and next perhaps “domestic servant” into “Assistant Household Manager”. The manager would, of course, be the lady of the house or the master, in case he is at that point in time a bachelor. It is probably to spare Narendra Modi the pain of recalling his underprivileged past that Ahmed Patel decided to re-designate the job of tea boy into the far more grandiose title of “canteen contractor”. Ahmed always attempts to be helpful to friend and critic alike, which probably explains this foray into the arcane world of historiography. Now that he is a certified biographer, hopefully well on the way towards his first book, it is time that Ahmed Patel did his party a favour by reminding the voters of this country that Modi is not the only VVIP who springs from humble origins. He needs to reveal to voters the financial situation in the Maino household when Stefano’s young daughter went to the UK in order to make her fortune. Thus far, there is only silence about what exactly was the condition of the Maino family. There are, of course, those who claim that the man was a close second to the Agnelli family in the matter of wealth, but this is not entirely credible. Only a very cruel millionaire of a father would banish his daughter to distant shores to work when she had little education to speak of.

Clearly, the family was poor, which is why it is admirable that Sonia entered into what must have been a life of some hardship in order to help pay the bills. Clearly, she was not selling tea (sorry, being a canteen contractor) in the UK. Then what was she doing? How did she get by in a country that is and was frightfully expensive? It is time for Ahmed Patel to blast to smithereens the propaganda that Narendra Modi was the only top leader of a national party today to come from the poorer sections of society. By credible accounts, this is a hard-got by distinction shared by Congress president Sonia Gandhi as well. The time has come for Ahmed Patel to harness his skill in biography into revealing the truth about the Maino family in the beginning of the 1960s, so that the garibs in this country can get motivated by seeing for themselves how it is possible to climb from penury to prosperity, and how an entire family, the Mainos, can make good in a way that that part of the Modi parivar that is not in the chief minister’s gaddi has not yet succeeded in undoing. They still remain where they were, while the Mainos are where they are. And to know where that “where” is, we now turn to Ahmed Patel.

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