SONIA GANDHI BY TALVEEN SINGHYou can count on the fingers of one hand columnists who haveopenly objected to India having an Italian prime minister. As one ofthem, may I make it clear that in my view the ascent of Sonia Gandhiis a matter of deep shame and not a tribute to our supposedly vibrantdemocracy. I am not the only Indian who feels this way. Those whobelieve that the question of her foreign origin is now a thing of thepast are quite wrong. The questions will only now begin.There have been attempts by some of my more sycophanticcolleagues in the media to portray Sonia’s victory as a massivemandate for the return of the Gandhi dynasty but the truth is that ifCongress had not won those 29 seats in Andhra Pradesh it would havenot got many more seats than the 114 it got last time.Indian newspapers are replete with hacks of ‘‘secular’’ persuasionwho have not stopped gushing about Rahul Gandhi’s ‘‘youthfulsincerity’’ and Priyanka Vadra’s ‘‘gorgeous looks’’ and concludedthat it was this dazzling combination that made the difference. One ofour financial newspapers passed this off as political analysis. ‘‘Thegerontocracy did not stand a chance. Charisma works absolutely. Mixit with a liberal dose of Rahul Gandhi’s youthful sincerity andPriyanka Gandhi’s gorgeous, fetching looks, and the choice wasunambiguous.’’Alas, if you analyse the results in less obsequious mode you discoverthat the Gandhi children did not make much difference even in thefour Hindi belt states. Congress won nine seats in Uttar Pradesh, onein Bihar, four in Madhya Pradesh and four in Rajasthan. Not exactly amassive mandate but you would not know it from reading editorials inthe Indian newspapers last week. Kowtowing, a timeless feature ofthe Gandhi durbar, has returned with such sickening speed that aleading Hindi newspaper had a front page editorial saying RahulGandhi was the sort of person India needs in public life because he is‘‘polite’’.Personally, I have no objection to Mr Gandhi and Mrs Vadra. Theyare Indian and as entitled as any other son or daughter of a politicianto inherit Daddy’s jagir. My problem is that as an Indian it offendsme to be represented by an Italian woman. It arouses in me the worst
kind of chauvinistic nationalism and there are millions of Indians whofeel as I do and who believe that if Sonia had even minimum respect(forget love) for India she would not have humiliated us by puttingherself forward as prime minister. With even former prime ministerslike Chandrashekhar and V P Singh assuring her that she iscompletely acceptable and surrounded as she is by a durbar, she maynot notice in the euphoria of becoming prime minister of the world’slargest democracy that the reaction to her victory has mostly beenshock. Even people who voted Congress now say they would not havedone if they had known she had half a chance of becoming primeminister.More dangerous still are the murmurings that you already hear fromHindutva nationalists. On the day of the election results, I happened totravel on a flight with a leading light of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.When I asked how he reacted to India having an Italian primeminister he spat out the word democracy as if it was poison. ‘‘This iswhat comes when you give illiterate, desperately poor people thevote.’’ And, from Pravin Togadia we already hear that it is becausethe BJP moved away from its Hindu nationalism that it was defeated.Those who think having Sonia as prime minister is insurance againstthe sort of ugly nationalism that men like Togadia represent need tothink again. When the backlash begins, and it will not take long, youwill see violent nationalism of a kind we have never seen before.Already, people have started talking about how embarrassed they arethat when talks are next held with Pakistan (somehow Pakistan getsmentioned more than China) India will be represented by SignoraSonia. She can wear saris, tie puja threads on her wrist and plaster herforehead with tika but as India’s prime minister what will stand outmore than ever before is her foreignness.Her presence in Indian politics is dangerously divisive. During thecampaign, wherever I travelled I asked people if they objected tohaving an Italian prime minister and everywhere there was a divisionon this issue, so inflammatory that the question would invariablyprovoke a shouting match. Those who said it was Indian tradition fora bahu to consider her husband’s country her own usually lost tothose who shouted them down for being sycophants and traitors.The divisions will grow, not lessen, with every decision she makes as
Prime Minister because whatever she does will be questioned. Doubtsabout her motives and loyalties will become particularly unpleasant ifthere is a crisis like the Kargil war. But, even peace time decisionswill be doubted and a wiser woman, less surrounded by courtiers,would have seen this a long time ago.But, here she is now. India’s first Italian prime minister exalted to thisposition by Marxists who have always put India afterinternationalism. Please remember that they found the Indian freedommovement distasteful because it was not in keeping with theinternationalism of their revolution. They have a truly internationalprime minister now but should remember as should the others whosupport her government that history is unlikely to forgive them forhumiliating India in this way. As for me, for the first time in my life Ifeel ashamed to be Indian.