May 20, 2004
Sonia Gandhi won fair and square, and in no time the knives were out. It’s all about blood and belonging. About old memories of foreign rule and subjugation. About national pride and prejudice. (The last may not be national but it’s there, even though so far it’s only been articulated by the Hindu majority.) And it’s about how all Indians will be humiliated if Sonia Gandhi becomes our PM.
How will we ever hold our heads high again? Face the world with an Italian-born at the helm, making decisions for India? Plural, diverse, multi-religious, multilingual, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic India. Democratic India, which does not recognise discrimination on any grounds, including origin, which guarantees equal representation. India, whose unique brand of made-in-India secularism has, by and large, been able to withstand (by and large) intolerant Hindutva.
Humiliated? I wanted to shout from the rooftops that this was a vindication of Indian democracy and secularism, that India is the first modern nation in the world to declare that your country of birth does not limit your aspirations as an Indian citizen. It sends a clear and positive signal to everyone, but especially to our minorities, that the electorate stands for inclusiveness in our polity, and repudiates the narrow-minded, jingoistic chauvinism that masquerades as nationalism. A reflexive and intellectually dishonest nationalism, at that.
Sonia Gandhi is no coloniser, ruling through brutal oppression. She can be thrown out at any time. Like it or not, she’s worked for these results and no one, not even a Gandhi, can wrest votes from the voter. She may be “inexperienced in governance”, but she’s been remarkably flexible and humble in seeking advice and alliances.
There are fears that she will bring a dangerous divisiveness into Indian politics. Well, the RSS/VHP/BJP brigade, the Modis, Togadias and Ashok Singhals are past masters at that, they’ve done much worse. On the other hand, Sonia Gandhi is free of the ugly prejudices and hate-filled speech that have contaminated our body politic over the last few years. That because she’s vulnerable to such charges, she will be cautious rather than arrogant, tread carefully rather than bulldoze, be mindful of the powerless, rather than only minding the interests of the rich. She’ll have to be very, very careful in a way that none of us natural-borns — and certainly not those who are contemplating self-immolation — ever has to be. In fact, so careful is that she has practically turned her back on Italy, forgotten that she had a past that wasn’t Indian.
This is what the Swarajists want. They want everyone who isn’t “Indian” (read Hindu) to forget that they were ever anything else. So Christian tribals have to reconvert, Muslims must voluntarily come back into the Hindu fold, pseudo-secularists (read pseudo-Hindus) must recognise that Hindutva is the one and only truly secular position. If you’re not willing to accept this, you’re disqualified. You can never belong.
We’re free to elect rogues, criminals and murderers and they can occupy the highest office in the land — but we’re up in arms about an Indian citizen who happens not to have been born here.
No, it’s not about competence, or ability or experience, or even about merit. It’s about blood — and that’s the shame.
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