June 2, 2010 / 11:18 AM / 9 years ago

India seen as too protective of Sonia Gandhi's image

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian authorities have tried to crack down on portrayals of Sonia Gandhi in movies, books and cartoons, triggering criticism that the world’s largest democracy is too reverent toward its most powerful politician.

Chief of India's ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi waves towards supporters during an election campaign rally ahead of the Maharashtra state elections in Mumbai October 10, 2009. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

Gandhi is a member of a family of Congress leaders that has dominated Indian politics since independence in 1947. As head of the ruling Congress party, she is widely seen as the power behind- -the-scenes in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government.

An upcoming Bollywood film “Rajneeti” (Politics), a political saga featuring a woman politician said to resemble Sonia Gandhi, has had trouble with the censor.

Filmmaker Prakash Jha denies his lead actor in “Rajneeti” — seen in promotional material draped in a saree like Sonia Gandhi — is modeled after her.

Jha said he had had difficulty getting his film classified “U/A” (universal) after first receiving an adult certification that would have drawn smaller audiences. A new controversy threatens to overshadow the movie’s premiere Friday.

A Spanish novel “El Sari Rojo” (The Red Sari), purporting to dramatize the “tale of the Nehru-Gandhi family told through the story of Sonia Gandhi,” has recently come under fire from the powerful Congress party

There have been moves to block the English publication of the novel, which in some editions has pictures of Sonia Gandhi on the cover with folded hands.

Congress party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi was cited in the Indian Express daily as saying the work was “completely unauthorized, defamatory and salacious.”

Congress has been blamed for shutting down the office of an Urdu-language newspaper in Kashmir over a caption under a picture of Sonia Gandhi deemed derogatory by local officials.

The main Hindu nationalist opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, says such censorship moves are a throwback to the Emergency in the 1970s when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi banned books, movies and newspapers seen as anti-government.

Political observers say the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi is not quite the autocrat her mother-in-law was reputed to be and that the new censorship is a result of the Congress party’s protective nature over the Gandhi family.

“It is the culture of sycophancy in the party that is to blame,” said Suhel Seth, managing partner of marketing consultancy Counselage India. “The eager beavers in the party take it upon themselves to be custodians of what they perceive to be Brand Sonia to curry favor.”

Sonia Gandhi has recently stepped up to a more public role after years of running the Congress party from the wings, with a cabinet-ranked post that gives her greater clout.

Editing by Alistair Scrutton

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