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Published in the 1-15 Sep 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Sonia’s sacrifice revisited

Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s reluctance to take up the reins of the government is a thing of the past. Her stunning decision in the last minute taken under pressure, especially from the fascist Sangh Parivar, had thrown up many issues of constitutional import. But, unfortunately, media magnates and other responsible quarters contented themselves by attributing her renunciation to the legendary tyag, voluntary renunciation of worldly gains and comforts, of the great sages and saints of the East. Jyoti Basu, the CPIM leader who persuaded Ms Gandhi in vain to accept the prime minister’s mantle, later told the media: “Her children do not want to lose their mother also by becoming the prime minister. How can we guarantee her security? This is a violent country.” His words certainly reminded one of the tragic and gruesome murders of the Mahatma, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

Although the BJP preached and propagated Swadeshi mantra, they were enthusiastic to embrace neo-imperialist tendencies. Globalization was welcomed into the country and allowed to go on a rampage all over the nation by none other than the BJP political bigwigs who ruled over Bharat for six years. The dubious law of one rule for us, another for the rest goes well with the BJP. It is not who heads the government at the Centre that matters. What matters is the democratic commitment and sincerity of purpose of those who are at the helm of affairs.

Although her decision came as a bolt from the blue to all those who had clamoured against the “foreign-born” being made the prime minister of India, none of the media mughals bothered to nit pick the fiendish demand which vehemently sought to keep Sonia Gandhi away from the seat of power. The question, how right were the Sonia-haters, is as pertinent today as it was then. 
One may, even if one does not subscribe to the Hindutva ideology, have some arguments against making a “foreign-born” India’s president or prime minister. The legal pundits quote from the American constitution, which constitutionally bars a person not belonging to America by birth from becoming its president! Against the scenario of Sonia Gandhi’s near accession to the seat of power, one could also hear some cynics going to the extent of regretting that “57 years after independence the nation was about to fall back into the hands of a foreigner!” Certain others, it seemed, were compelled to ask: “Can a person of Indian-origin think of becoming the prime minister/president of Italy? These premises may have their own justifications. But then, the Indian constitution provides for single citizenship only, namely, the citizenship of India with no strings attached. A person who is a citizen of India by naturalisation also has the same rights and duties as that of a citizen by birth. This makes us take a second look at Sonia’s renunciation from a different angle, especially when 16 nations of the world headed by the US have now decided in principle to grant dual citizenship to the Indians living in their countries.

Many in the BJP would be familiar with the Sanskrit phrase Vasudaiva Kutumbakam which means that the entire universe is my family. The idea of foreign or native is alien to India’s value system. Hinduism, which the RSS-BJP claims as its own, is known for its inclusiveness, not exclusiveness.

And if one were to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s credo then there is nothing foreign about Sonia Gandhi. One of the Mahatma’s staunch associates during the agitation for Home Rule, Annie Besant, happened to be of Irish descent. And two of his closest companions were of British origin. The disciple known only as Mirabehn, seen constantly by Gandhi’s side, was the daughter of a British admiral. Another remarkable follower was CF Andrews whom Gandhiji named Deenbandhu. Even the pre-Gandhi history of the Congress has a prominent individual of the so-called foreign descent. As every schoolchild learns, the founder of India’s grand old party was AO Hume, a Briton who intended the Congress to be a forum for Indians to let off some steam against the British Empire.

Even in ancient and medieval times India showed a knack of re-conquering its conquerors. Some of the most famous invaders such as the Kushans, the Macedonians and the Mughals, in fact became settlers in the land, eventually contributing to the great civilizational depth that makes up today’s India.

That is why it would be niggardly to call a woman who has married an Indian and raised her children in India, besides living through the traumatic assassinations of her husband and mother-in-law, a foreigner. You can fault her on counts of competence or ability. But if one were to go by the age-old values of our land, it would be distinctly un-Indian to keep harping on Sonia’s origins. 

The BJP fought the last Lok Sabha polls on the sole platform of Sonia’s foreignness. But the election verdict clearly showed that it did not work in their favour. In the 1999 elections, although Sushma Swaraj had vigorously campaigned on the issue of her opponent’s foreignness, but the people of Bellary in Karnataka chose Ms Gandhi to represent them in the Lok Sabha. The question of Sonia’s foreignness was virtually a non-starter for the BJP vis-a-vis the elections there. Yet, they stuck to it with mulish stubbornness for some strange reasons of their own. They even gave the greenlight to someone to release an election advertisement to say that it was on May 10, 1857 (sic) that Mangal Pandey, a hero of our freedom struggle, opened fire on the British and, therefore, it would be proper on the part of the electorate to think on this May 10 whether to hand over the reins of the governance to another foreigner! 

What amazes one is the Sangh Parivar’s insincerity and double-talk with respect to its spirited campaigns for upholding the national sentiments and traditions or what they call cultural nationalism. The Muslim minority of this country had earlier been bullied by the ‘saffron brigade’ for being the ‘descendents of Baber”, the videshi founder of the Mughal dynasty, and therefore Muslims (who came to India and settled here centuries before Babar) were dubbed ‘foreigners’ and hence should leave the country if they are not willing to listen to the diktats of Hindutva. Such vicious propaganda tries to alienate and instill fear in the minds of the minorities. 

The very same upholders of Indian nationalism and Swabhiman were the ones who rushed to demonstrate against this and many other related issues inside Parliament and on our streets. Witness the Shiv Sena trying to get at the throats of the other Indians living in Mumbai raising the outrageous slogan of “Me Mumbaikar”. Will not the sincerity of purpose of those who discriminate against their brethren be suspect even as they try to browbeat another citizen into submission? The NDA government, which conducted two high profile meetings under the banner of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, was quite eager to grant dual citizenship to persons of Indian origin living in certain foreign countries. The BJP was generous enough to appoint a New York-based RSS worker as “a goodwill ambassador” for looking after the affairs of the Pravasis who have been pressing for dual citizenship. Although the BJP preached and propagated Swadeshi mantra, they were enthusiastic to embrace neo-imperialist tendencies. Globalization was welcomed into the country and allowed to go on a rampage all over the nation by none other than the BJP political bigwigs who ruled over Bharat for six years. The dubious law of one rule for us, another for the rest goes well with the BJP. It is not who heads the government at the Centre that matters. What matters is the democratic commitment and sincerity of purpose of those who are at the helm of affairs. 

Ajir Kutty
Thiruvananthapura 

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