Sunday, April 13, 2008

Manipulative Mainos - an old report from Italy

Look what the beacon of socialism (The Frontline) had to say 10 years ago about the current two-in-one beacon (of secularism and sacrifice).This is one of the most interesting artciles I have ever read. We get amazing glimpses about the Maino family that are guarded more ferociously than even Indian national secrets.

. "I remember it like it was yesterday. Sonia was 20 years old. We were having a school reunion and she had come here with some old pupils. Dinner was being served when she suddenly announced she had to leave. "Why," one of us asked, "you've been away in England and we haven't seen much of you. Why don't you stay for dinner?"

"No," she said, "I can't stay. I have a special guest coming to dinner tonight." When we asked her who it was that was so special, she said with a peculiar toss of the head: "It's the son of Indira Gandhi, India's Prime Minister." I can still see her standing there. A little later she went to India. She had turned 21 by then. And then one day we opened our newspapers and saw the headlines. She had married Rajiv Gandhi. She had sent a telegram home to her father from India informing him of her decision as soon as she turned 21. She was always a little manipulative. She should do well in politics," adds Sister Anna Maria with a wry twist to her lips

I set off for the Maino residence. The last time I visited, it was closed and shuttered. Now the windows are open and there is a large metal blue car parked in the driveway behind the high gate with its prominently displayed "Beware of Dog" sign. Number 14 Via Bellini is a large two-storey house painted a dull, dark ochre with chocolate brown shutters. In a generally poor and run-down area, the house is conspicuous by its neat and well-kept appearance

There are three names on the interphone outside. Maino A., Maino N. and Maino Predebon. I know that Anushka, Sonia's elder sister, is in town. I ring the bell.

"Who is it?" a querulous voice answers.

"An Indian journalist. I would like to speak to someone from the family," I answer.

The voice immediately becomes tough, aggressive. "There is no one here. Go away," it says peremptorily.

"When will they be back?" I persist.

"I don't know, not for a while. I am just the maid. I can't tell you anymore." I know that voice. It bears an uncanny resemblance to Sonia Gandhi's. The reaction does not surprise me.

I knew Stephano, or Eugenio Maino as he liked to be called, quite well. He has been dead these past ten years or more. Came here penniless as a mason and made good. Started a small construction business. Brought up his daughters in the old traditional way - church, confirmation, communion. Suspicious of foreigners, he was.......I ask him about Eugenio Maino's alleged Fascist sympathies. "That shouldn't surprise you. He came from Asiago not far from Vicenza in the Veneto region where nationalism was strong. He fought in the Russian campaign alongside the Germans and remained true to Fascist Nationalist ideology all his life.......He even gave his three daughters Russian names in honour of the campaign in which he fought. He venerated the Duce. Many still do," says Giovanni, referring to Italy's war-time Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Even so, I wonder if we in Italy would accept a foreigner, and a woman at that, to take over a party which has symbolised the country's struggle against foreign rule and which continues to enjoy great, if diminished, support across the land

I was at school with Sonia until the age of 12. After that she went to the more fashionable college of Maria Ausiliatrice in Giaveno, 15 km away, run by the nuns. Sonia was a year older than I - I was born in 1947, she in 1946. She was nice but always aware of her social superiority. But Anushka, her sister, is not nice. She is a nasty piece of work, that one...

Her son is the best-liked in the family. He seems to be a real gentleman. And so goodlooking! But the daughter takes after her aunt - tough, arrogant and stubborn. I remember the tantrums Priyanka threw when she came visiting with her mother - a typically rich, spoilt brat. We were all very disappointed when Sonia decided to enter politics. I'm sure she did it for her daughter. They also say there are corruption charges against the family, that Rajiv took a lot of money. But somehow I cannot believe he did it for himself

Serena and Sylvia take me to Anushka's shop in Gerbola di Rivolta. They want to be photographed among the Indian artefacts there and I am happy to oblige.....The shop called Etnica is located in a lonely and depressing commercial complex a couple of km from Orbassano......The shop itself is an oasis of good taste in a desert of semi-urban kitsch. There are some rare old pichwais. A couple of exquisite silver pieces from Bikaner. The display is an intelligent mix of old and new, antique objects and recent Indian artefacts. The prices are astoundingly high. I noticed goods like Shatoosh shawls, the export and sale of which is banned.

I can't tell you the exact price of the Shatoosh. I received it a few days ago and the price has not been finalised. But it will certainly be between four and six million lire (between $2,000 and $3,000)," the shop assistant had told me on my last trip. A wooden cupboard from Kerala was selling for three million lire - $1,500 - while the pichwais were priced even higher.

I had found the horsey-looking young woman minding the shop a little bizzare. She boasted about her trips to India to buy stuff for the shop but denied she or the shop had any connection with the Nehru-Gandhi family. "I'm told Sonia comes from somewhere around here," she said, trying to look vague, "but the shop has nothing to do with her. The owner is someone from Torino." I had persisted and she had once more vehemently denied any connection. I had found it strange that a shop assistant out in the Italian boondocks should speak fluent English and be so knowledgeable about Indian antiques. She must have a very generous employer indeed, I had mused, pondering over the mystery.

Now seeing me in the company of Serena and Sylvia, she blanches. We have walked into the shop and I have my camera ready. They turn around to greet her but she is already throwing us out unceremoniously. The shop assistant is none other than Aruna, Anushka's daughter and Sonia Gandhi's niece. The girls apologise profusely for her rudeness. "We knew she was arrogant and nasty, but not this nasty," they say.

Aruna and I exchange knowing looks. I am tempted to challenge her earlier claims. Then, feeling sorry for her, I take a picture of the shop from the outside and leave.

Sonia Gandhi's niece "thinks" that her aunt comes from somewhere around India and that this shop has no connection whatsoever with Madam Maino!! Wahhh!!!

Of course people here have heard of the financial scandals surrounding Rajiv Gandhi. But Italians are so used to corrupt politicians that they tend not to hold that against her. And then the amount involved is not very big. Billions of dollars were stolen by Italian politicians as the Clean Hands investigation revealed. We all know about the links between the mafia and politicians. So all that talk about corruption does not bother us. However, I am surprised at what they told you at the shop. Why should they deny links with the Gandhi family, with Sonia? What do they have to hide

I am told Subramanian Swamy filed a case against Madam Maino based on this report for illegally exporting antiques to Italy. Not surprisingly, the case was dismissed in 2005.

The report may not be completely true; but serves a grim reminder to the sycophantic media that Madam Maino is certainly not the angel that she is made out to be. She has been charged with nepotism, corruption,opportunism -charges that have been levelled against any other politician. Why should she alone be exalted ? It could perhaps be for her refusal to accept Indian citizenship despite being married into the family of the Prime Minsiter for well over a decade.How may patriots can boast of that? People who knew her in Italy say she was always manipulative. We couldn't agree more. Madam Maino's palanquin bearers must understand that to "serve the poor" one need'nt be the PM; or worse, be the power behind the throne. Mother Therasa too served the poor.Madam Maino was at her manipulative best in 2004. She wanted power without responsibility and has got more than what she bargained for.


Anonymous said...

What exactly is the issue when Sonia chose to walk out of the school reunion citing some other reason.
Everybody does it.
The title 'Manipulative Maino' is at best puerile.
Grow up folks!

Anonymous said...

the adjective manipulative is used by Sister Anna Maria.

Anonymous said...

anon1 here.

Andromeda in this case has used it as title for this article-which is what I am talking about.

Anonymous said...

anon 2 here,
what is wrong with that?Andromeda has not manipulated the headline :)-It is common for newspapers to run headlines based on quotes.