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15 years later, Sonia mends an old fence

The charmed circle of friends of Sonia Gandhi live in dread of her most devastating weapon, the snub, but some former friends are beginning ...

Written by Vrinda Gopinath | New Delhi |
February 14, 2005

The charmed circle of friends of Sonia Gandhi live in dread of her most devastating weapon, the snub, but some former friends are beginning to feel the warm glow of friendship again.

Last week, the Capital was agog with the stunning ‘‘patch-up’’ between Sonia and Nina Singh, wife of former Minister of State for Defence and close Rajiv friend Arun Singh.

After 15 years of a long, bitter feud—it began with the overnight slamming of the garden gate between the two houses on Race Course Road, Arun Singh’s resignation from Rajiv’s government, accusing the Prime Minister of dragging his feet in booking the Bofors guilty, Singh’s self-imposed exile to a Himalayan hideout, family weddings and funerals on both sides—comes the hand of friendship, only months after Sonia’s spectacular anointment as the prime mover of the UPA.

But if Sonia is the focus of her party’s gushing adulatory, her circle of friends has swayed with scary volatility especially in the last decade—all ties with once close friends Amitabh Bachchan and wife Jaya were snapped on the eve of the nuptials of daughters Priyanka and Sweta; the gates of 10 Janpath were slammed shut to Rajiv’s close Doon School buddy Mohan and Nimal Thadani; yet another Rajiv friend, Shekhar Raha,

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suddenly withdrew to the Dehradun valley. There are also rumours that the Quattrocchis, Ottavia and Maria, are out in the cold today.

But all these years, some friends have remained steadfastly loyal: Suman Dubey and wife Manju, fashionista Romi Chopra, interior designer Sunita Kohli, Sonia’s fellow art restorer Rupika Chawla and industrialist Vicky Bharat Ram and wife Sukanya.

Gandhi watchers believe several new friendships were made after the Singhs, Arun and Nina, split with the family. After all, the Singhs were the closest Gandhi wannabes came to if they wanted to get close to the family, in the heady 80s, after Rajiv became Prime Minister.

The Singhs had moved in next door at 7, Race Course Road, after Rajiv pulled out his Doon School and Cambridge mate from the corporate world to help him run the country.

The children, Rahul and Priyanka, and the Singh trio, Hanut, Devaki and Anirudh, grew up as one family, went to school together, were packed off by Nina and Sonia on family vacations, whether to the emerald isles of Lakshadweep or to the Kapurthala (Singh’s family) summer home in Mussoorie.

The end of their relationship was as fateful as the intensity of their friendship and the unwritten code to the circle was clear—it was the kiss of death if Nina was still a friend, or so the friends believed.

Apart from Suman Dubey, who had the chutzpah to continue being friends with Nina and Arun, everyone else vanished from the scene.

Stories of ‘‘betrayal’’ of the Singhs abounded at that time. Despite Singh’s timely intervention to save a toweling firm from a hostile business takeover by a UK-based industrialist to Nina’s introduction of budding designers to the Gandhi household, they were ‘dumped’ the day they left the Gandhis.

While survivors of the charmed circle have managed to stay on despite their fierce competition for Sonia’s affections, as some insiders insist, the new warmth for the Singhs is certainly raising the curiosity barometer.

The children have already struck an informal camaraderie, ‘bonding’ at parties in the last few months, and the overture to Nina is seen as the beginning of a new social order.

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