A House for Mrs Gandhis

In Rae Bareli, the family bastion of the Gandhis, a trip down the memory lane of India's political history and legacy as well as a revelation that has so far been a secret.

Data Intelligence Team
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Rae Bareli 3

The more-than-a-century-old house in Rae Bareli

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Just off Degree College Chauraha in the heart of Rae Bareli, close to an imposing gate that says Feroze Gandhi College, is a cluster of a half-dozen similar looking houses. Red sloping roofs, white-painted walls, gated lawns edged with leafy green plants. 

Ask anyone in the area where Pande Kothi is, and they will point straight to this set of houses, which clearly look like a colony of upper middle-class homes anywhere in the country.

But there are three things that stand out in this group of houses, which are set in a cul-de-sac. 

One is an imposing temple, with a silver-and-stone shivling behind a thick glass viewing window and statues of gods and goddesses in each of the four corners. The shikhar is painted gold from bottom to top and a fountain outside keeps the floor cool. 


The second is an old colonial structure, yellow with red-bordered arches, home to many families. It is believed to be more than a hundred years old, as is the temple. 

The third – and to the follower of Rae Bareli and India’s politics the most interesting – is the home at the end of the street. A double-storey structure, a red sloping roof common to the others, a small iron gate with a stone walkway that leads up to the marble patio and the mesh and wood double doors leading into the house. 

This is the house where the two Mrs Gandhis – Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi – both stayed when they visited Rae Bareli. 

Indira was Rae Bareli’s MP in 1961, 1967 & 1980. Sonia won in 2004, 2009, 2014 & 2019. In any case, since the first election in 1952, the Congress has won all but two Lok Sabha elections from there. 

Pande Kothi

But back to the story of the house of Mrs Gandhis. 

It is part of the same family of Pandes, who all either directly related or cousins to each other. This particular house belongs to a Congress old-timer, who is a typical old-style politician, available for a cup of tea and a dose of gossip at any time of day or night. 

The ladies, when they visited, he told The Squirrels, would be welcomed at the gate of the house with a garland and tika on the forehead. They usually only came to rest after campaigning or meeting their constituents and would go up to the first floor room which was kept for them, through the living room, which again is a typical Indian one, with sofas covered in white and trinkets collected over the years on display. A floor lamp in one corner was pointed out for a special mention: apparently a member of Sonia Gandhi’s family liked it so much, it was replicated and sent to them. Now, that family member has made more copies and hands them out as gifts! 

Both the Mrs Gandhis also kept largely to themselves, with their meals also being sent up. 

A surprise revelation that the people in the house made was that Sonia Gandhi would awaken before dawn, get ready and then go the roof of the colonial structure to salute the sun. This revelation immediately sparked off an intense discussion about the hows and whys of this. The issue was then settled to the satisfaction of all by concluding that there were “many similarities” between Indian and Italian culture, chiefly led by the fact that both favoured sons over daughter. 

The political innuendo was hard to miss of course, especially as this discussion happened right in the midst of the nomination drama in Rae Bareli and neighbouring Amethi. 

But then given Rae Bareli’s position in India’s political lore, it doesn’t take much time for any and all discussion to end up in politics.

Congress Sonia Gandhi Indira Gandhi Rae Bareli