Saturday 22 May 1999

From Mahatma Gandhi to Madam Gandhi (Rediff)

Twenty-four years ago, at the Kochi headquarters of the Kerala Pradesh Congress committee, a telegram came to the state chief, the venerable Arecaparambil Kurien Antony. 'Organise spontaneous demonstrations across the state to protest against Sinha judgment', it read. In less than two hours, Antony himself was at the head of a 'spontaneous' demonstration on Kochi's MG Road attacking the verdict of Justice Sinha of the Allahabad high court, which held Indira Gandhi guilty of corrupt practices in her 1971 election. Thanks to orders sent on the phone to units across the state, similar marches took place in all district headquarters. Across the country, an orchestrated protest was spontaneously organized.

Today, almost nothing has changed. Both Vincent George and the (aptly named) Makhan Lal Fotedar have been at work creating the resignations, protests and cacophony of abuse against Sharad Pawar, Purno Sangma and Tariq Anwar. Just as she did when Indira Gandhi was alive -- when any refusal to oblige an Italian friend would be followed by the quick exit of Rajiv, Sonia and the two kids of Europe -- Sonia Gandhi has staged a theatrical walkout, to return only when her whims get fulfilled.

India is supposed to be a democracy. However, as in the Fascist Party that was so dear to her father Stefano, the slightest deviation from II Duce's wishes is treated as high treason. Instead of heeding the message, Sonia is getting the messengers shot.

However, let us assume that she is genuine about wanting to lavish every drop of her blood on the country that every month spends over a million US dollars on her upkeep. In that case, she should lower the financial burden on we taxpayers by moving out of 10 Janpath to the lavish Mehrauli farmhouse owned by her. Care should also be taken to avoid all those expensive phone calls -- all at taxpayer expense -- to Europe and North America. As for her frequent foreign trips, hopefully Sonia will stop the practice of taking along an army of security personnel on each such jaunt.

As Atal Bihari Vajpayee is a chivalrous individual, there is almost no chance that the citizens of India will be told how much is being spent on Sonia Gandhi's travel, telephones, maintenance and other expenses. Like Narasimha Rao, it is only when he is out of office, and at the receiving end of the PILs and cases filed by her minions, that Vajpayee will realize the extent of his error.

The Western press that lionises Sonia needs to subject her to the same inquisition that their own politicians face. In the United States, even the food eaten by the President and the First Lady is public knowledge. In India, few are aware that Sonia and her children love 'boloni', an Italian sausage filled with delicious beef and ham. Back in 1982, George Fernandes talked about Rajiv Gandhi's love for beef and ham. Swiftly, Indira Gandhi made her eldest son visit every second temple in the country, to deflect attention away from such charges. How could a devout temple visitor eat pork or beef? It must be a mistake!

In this writer's view, there is absolutely nothing wrong in eating ham or beef, and it is strange that Sonia Gandhi is taking such pains to keep the food habits of herself and her two children secret. Many Hindus eat ham, and some even consume beef. To admit this openly would reveal character, to conceal it would show a sly personality. In like vein, there is absolutely no crime in the fact that Sonia Gandhi and her two children are practising Catholics. After all, Christianity is one of the great religions of the world, and in India Christians have done much, much more than other faiths to spread health and education.

The present writer is himself the product of Christian schools, and is proud of it, just as he is for winning the Scripture Prizes at an all-India competition. Just as the message of the Gita is universal, so is that of the Bible, and all citizens of India should taught both. Thus, it is strange that Sonia Gandhi acts as though she were ashamed to be a Christian, and pretends to be a Hindu by visiting Tirupati as a 'believer'.

Similarly, there is nothing objectionable in the fact that the language of discourse in the Rajiv Gandhi household was and is Italian. Sonia speaks to her children in that language when they are alone, rather than in two languages that she is not familiar with, Hindi and English. It is because Italian is the language of choice for her and the children that Sonia still has a pronounced Italian accent, thirty years after marrying an Indian. It is the accent of the class that she belonged to, and again there is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that her father could not afford to complete even the school education of his three daughters. However, in his last years he died an affluent man. Indeed, the tax records (again hidden from the citizens of India, by obliging Italian governments that protect Sonia as fiercely as President Flavio Cotti of Switzerland does) of the Maino family show the rapid ascent into wealth after 1983. It would be churlish to link this to Ottavio Quatrocchi and Snam Progetti.

Rather than behave as though India were Afghanistan and hide behind a purdah, Sonia Gandhi needs to actualise the good in her European heritage, by transparency on her educational qualifications the wealth of her family her lifestyle and the expenses incurred on the upkeep of herself and her children and relatives.

As most of the publishers of Indian publications are drooling for invitations to 10 Janpath, they are not going to allow their editors to investigate such issues. Not, of course, that most editors wish to. They have an eye on jobs in the numerous foundations effectively owned by Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka. Hopefully, one of them is financing a crash course in Italian for Robert Vadra, for unless he speaks the language fluently, his mother-in-law will never save the exchequer crores of rupees by permitting the young couple to live under the same roof as the rest of the Mainos.

It is a commentary on the secrecy surrounding Sonia that thus far her preferences in food and drink, plus the language that she uses to communicate with her loved ones, has not been made public. In the United States, there are thousands of families where Malayalam or Bengali are spoken at home by citizens of the United States. It is an insult to the people of India to believe that they would be turned off it Sonia were to reveal details about her personal life.

Indeed, now that she is trying desperately to become prime minister, she has an obligation to make all this public and not to lie. India is maturing as a democracy, and lies will quickly get found out. No longer can the Nehru family own India, even though it still controls the Congress party.

The candour of Digvijay Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Giridhar Gamang and Shiela Dixit has to be admired. All four have admitted that they owe their loyalty not to the Republic or to the voters of their states, but to the Maino family. Should that clan tell them to do anything, those words would supercede any other. Shiela Dixit in particular was articulate that for her, only Sonia mattered, which was presumably why she worked so hard to defeat the Congress party in 1996.

The four are reminiscent of Ramrao Gundu Rao, who cheerfully said he would auction the Vidhana Soudha if asked to do so by Indira Gandhi. Mercifully for admirers of that superb structure, this request was never made. Rao was explicit that his constituency was Indira Gandhi and her two sons. Not the MLAs, whom he treated with contempt. Not the people of his state, who rejected him with the same contempt in 1983.

Today, watching the tearful performance of the four Maino chief ministers (they have made it clear that to them Maino is more important than the Congress) shows that the spirit of Gundu Rao lives on, and indeed has got further strengthened by the entry of Sonia Maino into the prime ministerial sweepstakes.

However, what of those who are foolish enough to cherish democratic ideals? Who believe that India should remain a society where authoritarian impulses get curbed, and where pluralism reigns? Who believes that a mere expression of (legitimate) concern should not lead to a political execution? Clearly, such individuals have no role in the Congress, just as those who attacked II Duce had very little future in the Italian blackshirts.

The irony is that it is the Left parties who are today supporting such undemocratic tendencies. In 1942, the Communist movement went against the forces of nationalism. It is still paying the price of that decision. Today, once again, by their support to NATO's favourite, Sonia Maino, they are again ranging themselves against the forces of national dignity in India. Hopefully, they will realise their error before it damages them permanently.

In both Kerala and Bengal, the BJP is poised to make huge gains, thanks to both the Congress and the Left being Maino followers. Both the Forward Bloc and the RSP realised this. The CPM and The CPI have -- thus far - not.

The battle of Pawar and his two friends is a fight to restore inner-party democracy in the Congress party. By fighting them, Congresspersons are sealing their own fate. Soon it will be the turn of the Jitendra Prasadas, the Rajesh Pilots, the Kamal Naths and the R K Dhawans... A little over six decades ago, a similar process took place in Germany, and made total the grip of that other admirer of Mussolini, Adolf Hitler.

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