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Wounds from the past - India Today

Swapan Das Gupta ()
February 9, 1998

Title: Wounds from the past
Author: Swapan Das Gupta
Publication: India Today
Date: February 9, 1998

In last year's British general election, the conservative Party
put out a telling advertisement. It showed a black man alongside
a simple message: "Labour says he is black. We say he is
British." in this season of political iftar parties and contrived
pre-election apologies, it may be pertinent to consider the
relevance of the Conservative message for this country.
Particularly after a generous dose of the gospel according to
Sonia Gandhi.

In 1950, India gave itself a Constitution which, for all its
other shortcomings, conferred a common citizenship on all the
people. Apart from the separate civil codes-which were
recognised as aberrations-and a dose of affirmative action for
the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, the Constitution established a
legal framework for Indianness. Of course, it didn't quite work
that way, but at least enlightened souls believed that somewhere
in the not-too distant future a pan-Indian political identity
would emerge. Secularism was an ideal not because there was any
real fear that India would become a confessional state like
Pakistan or Israel. It was envisaged as a modern mantra on the
conviction that political identity ought not to be crafted on
primordial logic.

There is unlikely to be any consensus on why it all went wrong.
The Congress, particularly Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, must
accept a lion's share of the blame for injecting a cynical
dimension into electoral politics. The Khalistan movement that
devastated Punjab for a decade was a colossal Congress
misadventure. The more doctrinaire of the old Nehruvians and
Communists compounded this by promoting minorityism and
belittling the cultural basis of nationhood. These triggered a
fierce majoritarian backlash that culminated in the Ayodhya
demolition five years ago. The BJP, not the Congress, was the
unintended political beneficiary of Indira and Rajiv's political
chicanery because there was a reactive yearning for Indianness.

Sonia-to be precise, her erudite speech writers-has learnt
nothing from the past. just as India was preparing to overcome
the traumas of the past decade and look beyond limited concerns
of identity, Sonia has reopened old wounds. Whether it is the
preposterousness of her Bofors protestations, the disingenuity of
her claims on the Babri Masjid or the "anguish" over Operation
Bluestar and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the Congress star
campaigner seems hell bent on injecting a plethora of divisive
notes into the 1998 election campaign. Her anxiety to resuscitate
a moribund Congress by using dynastic charm is understandable.
Less desirable is her willingness to perpetuate a family trait
and prey on sectional fears.

It is fortunate that so far the non-Congress parties have
maintained a certain level of decorousness, the outbursts of
Chandrababu Naidu and Bal Thackeray notwithstanding. But if
Sonia begins to cruise home with her recklessness, it is almost
certain that this election will degenerate into a no-holds-barred
brawl. That may be entertaining to the non-voting classes who in
any case nurture a deep contempt for democracy, but for ordinary
Indians, the consequences may be far more fearful. In Sonia's
vision, the family comes first and foremost. Then comes the
family's old faithfuls-divided conveniently into Muslim, Sikh,
Christian, Adivasi and Dalit vote banks. Sonia clearly doesn't
know the meaning of being Indian.

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