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India: The steamy side of Sonia Gandhi?

A hot-and-heavy book has political India in an uproar.

At one level the party espouses religious and cultural liberalism. At another, it will simply not allow any kind of portrayal of its supreme leader Sonia Gandhi in any form — book, film or cartoon. The ultra-protectiveness is seen by some as the result of the extreme sycophancy that rules at every level.

The inadvertent fallout of all this fuss is that India is agog over the release of a book whose author was an unknown until now.

Within India, the Congress Party’s tacticians work in unseen ways. In the just-released Bollywood film called "Rajneeti" (politics) by the noted Prakash Jha, one prominent role is that of a sari-clad lady politician. Bollywood rumor mills now abound with stories about how Jha was forced to chop bits of the movie showing the lady politician after the character was said to resemble Sonia Gandhi.

Jha has denied that the role was modeled on any real person, and also denied that he had made any cuts. An ambitious previous film project based on Sonia Gandhi’s life, which had roped in the well-known Italian actress Monica Bellucci to play the lead role, was mysteriously shelved.

The Congress Party is prickly about several portions of Moro’s book such as his report that Hindu priests did not allow Sonia to be present at her husband’s funeral, and his suggestion that the widowed Gandhi had looked to return to Italy with her two children after her husband’s death.

Meanwhile, "The Red Sari" (named after Gandhi’s traditional Indian wedding attire), is awaiting publication. The New Delhi-based Roli Books says it is negotiating with both the author and Gandhi’s lawyers to speed up the India launch.

“The author is willing to make suitable changes and we are hoping that will clear the way,” said Priya Kapoor, a director of Roli Books.

The hurry is understandable. Whoever the publisher, the book looks like it will be a financial winner all the way.