Think back if you can to that week in 1995 when the first issue of Outlook appeared. The big story of the day—an Outlook exclusive—was that India's prime minister, Narasimha Rao, wrote dirty books in his spare time. The magazine had procured a manuscript of Narasimha Rao's novel and proceeded to carry the more salacious bits.
Narasimha Rao was embarrassed, the nation amused, and when the book finally did appear (as The Insider), the naughty passages had been excised. But even as Delhi's political circles giggled at the thought of the apparently erudite prime minister hitching up his dhoti and proceeding to churn out porn, nobody thought of the woman who had installed Rao at Race Course Road.
By 1995, Sonia Gandhi was something of a political non-entity. In just four years, she had gone from being kingmaker to being regarded as a holdover from another era.
It could have been different, of course. In 1991, when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, the Congress party's Pavlovian reflex was to offer the...