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Darkness To Light

Darkness To Light

While Congress President Rahul Gandhi continues to be attacked by the secular brigade and the BJP-RSS for wearing his Hindu beliefs on his sleeve, his political ploy seems to have lost its way. After giving Narendra Modi a scare in Gujarat and continuing with his religious pursuits by visiting temples and going on a pilgrimage to Manasarovar, Gandhi seems to be getting himself into a caste cauldron now.

He should know that his family has a wide secular outlook, reflected even in the matrimonial choices his grandmother and his father, apart from others in his family, made. Though trying to ‘look Hindu’ to counter the narrative that Congress was ‘anti-Hindu’ may be a clever political shortcut, given the importance religion plays in the lives of majority Indians, it would be downright stupid for Gandhi to unwittingly propagate casteism.

The Congress and Gandhi have claimed that he is a Brahmin. After leaders of the BJP retorted by asking his ‘gotra’, they have ‘revealed’ that Gandhi is a Kaul Brahmin hailing from the Dattatreya gotra. I find this the most retrograde statement from the party in recent times. A party whose tallest icon is Mahatma Gandhi should never have anything to do that could reemphasise importance of caste in India. It is not only a dangerous game to play but will contribute to taking the country back to the dark ages.

Prior to the ‘casteist outing’, Gandhi had undertaken rituals associated with different strains of Hinduism, since 2017. Congress insiders had privately explained that these were measures to blunt the false narrative unleashed by the RSS-BJP that the Congress was ‘anti-Hindu’. Incidentally, a Congress audit had revealed that voter preferences in this decade were greatly influenced by the BJP-RSS propaganda that Congress was ‘anti-Hindu’.

Unfortunately, several intellectuals and writers failed to understand the ploy and criticised the Congress and Gandhi for ‘practising soft Hindutva’. The allegations have helped the BJP, which have been rattled by Gandhi’s ‘bhakti’. What has baffled me is the usage of the term ‘soft Hindutva’ by liberals.

I had in these pages early this year tried to explain the folly of prefixing ‘soft’ to the political ideology of the RSS. Hindutva is a term coined by the RSS. The organisation claims it’s a synonym for ‘Indianness’. In truth, ‘Hindutva’ is about political positioning to oppose India’s secular Constitution. It is about establishing supremacy of Hindus over others. That project is halfway through with the growth of the BJP.

The Congress’ attempt has not been to practise its milder version. Hence, the term ‘soft Hindutva’ for showcasing religious zeal of its leader in his private life is wrong. One could call it Congress’ attempt to play the ‘Hindu card’ but it cannot be accused of engaging in ‘soft Hindutva’ for the simple reason that Congress has not tried to whip up hatred towards minorities or question the equality the Constitution guarantees to everyone.

However, Gandhi’s ‘Dattatreya gotra’ is a dangerous idea. Is he trying to win over caste practitioners who are unlikely to be impressed with his paternal grandmother’s lineage when his maternal grandparents are Italians and paternal grandfather a Parsi. Indira Gandhi took pride in having a Parsi, Catholic and Sikh in her immediate family but her grandson takes pride in his ‘Brahmin roots’.

When Barack Obama was attacked by Conservative Republicans, who believe that the United States should be administered only by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, he did not hide his roots. He proudly declared that his father was a Muslim from Kenya. He also did not hide the fact that he was brought up by his maternal grandparents to gain the respect of the same America which eight years later elected a caveman to succeed him. Gandhi must abandon obscurantism and turn forthright as Obama to win over India.

Thanks For Absence of Hype

On November 28, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of a corridor to allow Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit the Darbar Sahib Kartarpur Gurdwara in Pakistan’s Narowal district.

The corridor had been the long-standing request of the Sikh community because the gurudwara was built at the final resting place of Guru Nanak and hence an important spot of pilgrimage.

The centuries’ old gurudwara was restored by the Government of Pakistan in the last decade but the attempts of Sikh pilgrims to visit the shrine unhindered never worked. Although the place was just across the border, it required acquiring a Pakistani visa, which was cumbersome, if not impossible.

The hostile relations between India and Pakistan made the Indian Government reject a Pakistan Government suggestion for building a corridor to provide pilgrims access to the shrine without visas. However, a few months ago, when Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu visited Pakistan to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Khan, he not only conducted himself emotionally, but also made Khan agree to build the corridor. The Indian Government had to reluctantly give in to Sikh sentiments thereafter.

There are apprehensions in the security establishment that the corridor may be misused by Pakistan to promote pro-Khalistani sentiments. But even without the corridor, India needs to be vigilant against resurrection of the Khalistan movement not only at the borders but even while conducting international diplomacy.

The ceremonies of foundation-laying in both India and Pakistan went about without the level of hype that one would have expected from Indian news channels that had lost all sense of fairness and shame long ago. However, the channels stuck to the position of just asking questions on Sidhu’s patriotism mostly, apart from telecasting the event alive.

The main reason for this was the distancing of the Narendra Modi Government from the venture. While it wanted to assuage the Sikh sentiment and sent its Sikh ministers in the Union Council of Ministers to Kartarpur to share the dais with Khan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who though not tired of the cameras and arc lights, kept away from the event. Even the foundation-laying ceremony at the Indian end was done by officially ‘apolitical’ Vice-President Venakaiah Naidu.

Contrast this with the frenzy when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a bus trip to Lahore in 1998, or when Modi made an unscheduled and uninvited stop at Lahore some time ago. That the Kartarpur corridor will not normalise ties between India and Pakistan is evident to anyone with common sense but what made news channels presume that a bus between Lahore and Delhi would? It only goes to show that news channels’ hyping of news is dependent on the signals they receive from the BJP headquarters.

(abey.kay@gmail.com)

(Published on 03rd December 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 49)