By François Gautier
Tuesday, 09 September , 2003,
during State Elections 2003
Last week I was in Bangalore where FACT (Forum Against Continuing Terrorism) was hosting an exhibition on the plight of the five lakh Kashmiri Pandits, who had to flee the valley of Kashmir under terror and death and have become refugees in their own country, an ethnic cleansing without parallel in the 20th century, which is totally ignored by the UN, the Amnesty International and the world.
On the same day that we opened our exhibition, Sonia Gandhi, on a whirlwind tour of some of the States where the forthcoming Assembly elections are to be held (Delhi, MP, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Mizoram), stopped over in Bangalore, capital of a State which is governed by her own party.
Now, most VVIPs, such as the President or the prime minister, choose to land late at night in Bangalore, so as not to put citizens at too much inconvenience. Not Sonia, she landed right in the middle of the day and left at the same time the next day, putting an entire city under stress, as the whole road from the airport to the Raj Bhavan had to be closed for nearly two hours.
It is not only ordinary citizens who suffered, but also western executives working in Bangalore – and there are many – or even top people such as the gentle and courteous Aziz Premji, Wipro’s boss. The loss in man hours and business must be counted in dozens of lakhs.
At the Raj Bhavan where she stayed, the security was unprecedented and even ministers had to submit themselves to humiliating frisking and wait for hours to have a brief glimpse of ‘Madam’.
I understand that there is an important security concern with Sonia Gandhi: after all her mother-in-law and her own husband were victims of terrorism – and what a terrible ordeal it must have been for her to go two times through this trauma – but I sometimes wonder: is she that marked a woman? And by whom? Islamic separatists? But her party is often allied with Muslims; Naxalites? Again Marxists in India see her as the ‘Great Saviour against the Common Enemy’; the LTTE? They are too busy negotiating with the Sinhalese and want to shed some of their reputation of terrorism… Who then?
But are not Mr Vajpayee, or Mr Advani, much more at risk? Hindus have more enemies in India than the Congress, who often unites politically with the Marxists, the Christians, and the Muslims to fight the BJP and dethrone it – at all costs, even sleeping with the enemy.
As a foreigner myself and a guest of India, I am a little shocked by Sonia’s insensitivity to Indians. Does she not realise that she owes her status today to the traditional tolerance and acceptance of others by the majority Hindus of this country? Even Mr Vajpayee treats her with a courtesy and a gentlemanliness that she will have a tough time to match if she comes to power. He even had the Bofors report quashed so as not to embarrass her!
Is it really necessary for her to constantly harp on ‘Hindu fundamentalism’, in a country where, whatever happened in Gujarat, Hindus have given refuge to all persecuted minorities in the world – the Christian Syrians, the Jews, the Parsis, the Armenians, the Tibetans today – while being terribly persecuted themselves, be it by the Portuguese or the Muslim invaders?
It would be impossible in a nation like France, to have a leader of the opposition and a possible PM, who is not of French origin – and not a Catholic at that. Even a fifth generation Jew will find it difficult today to become President of France (the topmost post).
I am also a little uneasy, when I see so many Congress leaders, some of them sensitive and highly intelligent, fawn over Sonia Gandhi as if she is the Mother Goddess and the Saviour of India.
What is going, for instance, in the head of Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, who is confident of making it the third time as Madhya Pradesh braces for the Assembly elections this November? Digvijay Singh, who practices meditation and pranayama, backtracked on cow slaughter to toe the party line of Sonia Gandhi, who does not want to offend her Muslim electorate. What are the reasons for Sonia’s hold on such intelligent people? I believe there are three, shakti, the traditional respect for women in Hindu Dharma, which allowed Indira Gandhi to rule this country for 20 years and even permeated to Islamic South Asian countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh, who all had women PM; bhakti, the natural tendencies of Hindus to worship what they feel is above them – and which the Western Press mistakes for dynasty worship; and the false Aryan invasion theory, which is at the root of all Indian history books, including those who are used here.
What does the Aryan theory say? That most good things in India came from the West with an invasion of white-skinned people, supposedly originating from Ural: Sanskrit, the Vedas, Mathematics, astronomy, philosophy…
This theory has divided India as nothing else, pitting the South against the North, the Dravidians against the so-called Aryans. Yet, many recent archaeological and linguistic discoveries point out that there never was an Aryan invasion and even diehard proponents of that theory, such as Romila Thapar, are distancing themselves from it.
It is even quite possible that the Aryans, who originated in India, went westwards, as Zoroastrianism testifies. Yet the craving for the white skin remains, as Sonia Gandhi’s hold over Indians, rich and poor, inoffensive and mighty, educated and uneducated, seems to testify.
We wish Sonia Gandhi and her venerable party the best of luck for the next Assembly elections, hoping that her gains will be on the strength of her qualities alone, not of the colour of her skin.
(François Gautier is a French journalist and writer, who was for eight years the political correspondent in India and South Asia for ‘Le Figaro’ and now works for Ouest-France, the largest circulation daily (I million copies) in France and LCI, France’s 24 hour TV news channel. He has written several books prominent among them being ‘Arise O India’ and ‘A Western journalist on India’ and ‘India’s Self Denial.
Gautier will write exclusively for Sify.com on the run-up and during the State elections.