Destinations: Vienna (2004) 2: Ah Sonia!!!

Dr. Manmohan Singh commenced his second term the other day. Like last time, the government formation has been marked by theatrics, posturing and hard bargaining. One of the UPA allies, had tried to extract a trifle more than what was reasonable but has had to fall in line and accept whatever was offered by a resurgent Congress.

The ‘drama’ this time, however, has been far less exciting than what it was in 2004 when the Congress had lesser number of seats and had to conjure up a semblance of majority with the association of a motley group of parties. The script that year was more complex and wending its tortuous way it culminated in, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the eventual leader of the new United Progressive Alliance, paying heed to her “inner voice” and deciding to renounce (in true Indian tradition?) her claim to the hot seat of Indian premiership. She, instead, nominated Dr. Manmohan Singh to head the new government. Politicians generally go and grab power. Abstaining from it was somewhat of an unusual phenomenon. By doing so Mrs Gandhi immediately went sky-high in the estimation of Indians, more so of the rank and file of the Congress Party of which she was the venerated chief then as she is today. Her willing denial of power, however, won her admiration even abroad as became evident to me soon after.

Around that time my wife and I were in Vienna and had followed the goings-on in Delhi on the BBC World News. We were on a short holiday of a fortnight and were comfortably ensconced in Rothensteiner’s Heritage Apartments. A baroque structure like most of the Viennese buildings, it was erected sometime in the 1870s and was pleasingly furnished with period furniture and accoutrements. It was just a short walk away from the Museum Quarter and Ringstrasse - the fascinating “Ring” for short –the hub of Vienna.

On, I think, 24th May 2004 the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, once conducted by our own Zubin Mehta, held a free concert on the Schonbrunn Palace grounds to welcome the ten countries from Central and Eastern Europe that had been freshly-inducted into the European Union. Named after Schoner Brunnen, a fountain discovered in the 17th Century, the Schonbrunn Palace is a “must-see” sight of Vienna. Earlier a hunting lodge, it was used as a summer residence during the reign of Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria. While the Palace, situated on an elevation, offers a fine view of Vienna, it has within its confines numerous delectable exhibits.

That day all roads, seemingly, led to Schonbrunn. The Metro, which on other days would have just a smattering of commuters, was plying packed with music lovers. The expansive front yard (in fact, a huge ground) of the Palace was overflowing with people. The Orchestra of 100-odd pieces seemed a mile away on the dais facing the entrance with massive speakers mounted at vantage points.

The place was teeming with people. All the chairs and other places where one could rest one’s posterior had been taken up. We took our standing positions right at the back, near the entrance with youngsters on our two sides guzzling beer. The concert was yet to start and, so, we got talking to a few boys and girls near us. All spoke fluent English. As we got friendlier a young man happened to ask me my nationality. As soon as he heard it he exclaimed “Ahhhh, Sonia Gandhi?”She had renounced the premiership only a day or two back.

That somewhat extended exclamation contained a fantastic mix of awe, admiration and a little disbelief – about a person shunning a platter offering the wherewithal to rule over a billion people.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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