Guess who bought a sword from Pakistan for Congress President Sonia Gandhi? And gifted her a cashmere wool sweater from Mongolia? And whose foreign jaunts remain incomplete without shopping for Sonia Gandhi? Her party colleague and Minister of State for Defence Mallipudi Mangapti Pallam Raju.
It is not that Sonia has a fascination for swords. Or that Raju is a ‘macho guy’ who takes pride in brandishing them. “When I saw the swords, something came over me. I felt I had to buy them. I wasn’t carrying money so I borrowed some and bought three swords — one for Mrs Gandhi and two for myself.” Bringing them into India was tough, since they would not fit into a suitcase. So Raju went shopping once again, this time for a suitcase large enough. “The best looking I gave to Mrs Gandhi,” he confesses. For his wife Mamatha, he usually picks up fridge magnets and coffee mugs.
If cricket fans hear what he has to say about the game, they would never forgive him. “Cricket,” he declares, “is a waste of time.” In his younger days, his father M.S. Sanjeevi Rao dissuaded him from playing it since he felt it ruined weekends. Even though his father advocated individual sports, Raju played hockey and football. Along with Union Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, he is trying to persuade MPs to play football instead of cricket. Ironically, Raju’s son, Jatin, has taken to cricket.
As for his wife, it was a “double shock” to return to India from Norway, where he had promised they would settle down, and lose him to politics. It was difficult for her to cope with a husband in absentia. “I go ahead and do what I feel like. She has come around to accept this.” Like she has the fact that he is a “people’s person” and likes crowds, which she shuns. The man she had married was a technocrat who had pursued a career in the US and Norway. It was his father’s illness that prompted him to continue the family legacy, considering his grandfather was a freedom fighter and father a Union minister.
Their daughter, Vahini, is their first child. Mamatha insisted that they plan another but he did not want this to clash with the elections. “I cannot handle your pregnancy and elections at the same time,” he’d told her. As luck would have it, he was denied a ticket. Two years later, when they planned a child, mid-term polls were announced and Raju was asked to contest, landing him in a situation he’d been desperate to avoid. “A pregnant wife and hectic campaigning.”
If you visit his house in the morning, you will find him clearing up or dusting bookshelves. This, he confesses, is how he unwinds. Among the first things he did shortly after joining office was to order that toilets in South Block, which houses the Defence Ministry, be cleaned up.