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Italians revere Sonia loyalty towards India

Rome: From an unobtrusive wife of a slain Prime Minister to becoming the top ranked politician in India, Sonia Gandhi is hailed in her country of origin Italy as an "Indian who is loyal to its interests".

"It is like a dream," says 35-year old driver Umberto Catalano about the ruling UPA Chairperson`s meteoric rise in Indian politics from her humble beginnings in Italy.

When a news agency correspondent engaged in a conversation with Catalano and his two other friends in a hotel here to know whether they knew about Sonia Gandhi, the driver immediately responded with enthusiasm.

"Of course. Her love story is a fairy tale to most Italians even now. She has transformed herself as an Indian completely after her marriage. This shows love has no culture, boundaries, race and religion," Catalano said.

Debora Lepre, a shopkeeper in one of Rome`s busy streets, seemed overawed by Gandhi`s personality.

"We hear that she is the most powerful and influential politician in India. Most of us feel proud of her," she said.

Some students at Saint Louis University in Rome, where recently Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma gave a lecture on India-Italy relationship, expressed similar feelings about Sonia Gandhi, who has been living in India ever since she married Rajiv Gandhi in 1968.

"It`s a fairy tale love story. I cannot imagine in my life a small town girl falling in love (with the son of a powerful Prime Minister) and after marriage adjusting to an altogether different culture and a family of political background," a literature student of the university remarked.

Her classmate chipped in saying "she (Sonia Gandhi) is heading a political party in the world`s biggest democracy. It sounds as if I am reading a novel!"

Earlier in his lecture at the university, Sharma said: "Besides trade relationship, we have a deep connection with Italy as our UPA Chairperson belongs to this country."

"India`s democratic set up has unity in diversity with a Sikh as Prime Minister and an Italian as the leader of the Congress party," Sharma had said during his visit last week.

Be it shopkeepers, local politicians or designers, most of them had a common observation about Sonia Gandhi being "not an Italian any more, but an Indian."

A Milan-based designer, owning a manufacturing unit in Gujarat, who wished not to be identified, said: "The style of her (Gandhi) dressing in sarees shows how well she has accepted the Indian culture. It also shows how deeply she was in love with her husband that she was ready to change herself."

"She has a unique collection of Indian sarees. She looks Indian!" the designer said.

A senior Italian politician also shared the view that "Mrs Gandhi has grown over last few years. She does not even speak in Italian language whenever our delegation visits her in India. She has been balancing her role as an Indian politician very well."

Adriano Monti said "it is a proud feeling for most of us to see Sonia Gandhi in the world`s 100 powerful women list compiled by Forbes."

"Her love was fearless and that`s why I believe she entered active politics after her husband`s death to carry forward his vision," Monti said.

A senior official with Italy-based Finmeccanica Group, which operates globally in the aerospace, defence and security markets, said, "After Rajiv Gandhi passed away, many Italian women in her home-town Turin thought Sonia Gandhi will return to Italy and settle here."

"But that did not happen. She continued to live as a widow as per Indian traditions. It was hard to believe that she chose to live with two children in India in those difficult times."

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