Date: 4/20/2004


..............White hand on our nuke button?

....................By TAVLEEN SINGH

As a steadfast member of the school of political thinking that totally opposes foreign prime ministers for India I never fail to take up the issue whenever it slips back into the news.

Of late, with Hindutva raising its ugly head and rape and terrorism rampant the question of Sonia Gandhi's ``imported'' status has barely found mention in the forums of public debate so it delighted me that Sharad Pawar raised it last week even if it was in an agricultural rather than political context. One minute he was talking about imported tamarinds and the very next there was that delectable little remark about political parties importing leaders.

I wanted to reach into the television set and shake him by the hand. Ignoring Sonia's foreignness is about as difficult as ignoring a boil on someone's nose and yet we ignore it totally these days. It is my view that we will have to pay a very heavy price for this which is why, despite hate mail and admonitions from Congress friends, I rake up Sonia's foreignness any chance I get.

At about the time Pawar was making his comments about imported tamarinds and imported leaders I was wandering about Rajasthani villages conducting the usual pre-election vox populi. Naturally, one of my questions was about Sonia's foreignness. In the drawing rooms of Delhi and Mumbai the ``educated'' view is that the ``common man'' thinks Italy is a village in Tamil Nadu. Happily, most of the people I talked to knew exactly where Italy was and said they did not like the idea of a foreign prime minister one bit. It was wrong, they said, an insult to national pride.

So, when I hit urban terrain and came upon the sanctimonious editorials in the national press I was quite taken aback. Barring a couple of exceptions everyone attacked Pawar for mentioning Sonia's foreignness on the grounds that it was a ``non-issue''. `In a country where everybody likes everything foreign including whether aamchi Mumbai should be turned into a New York or Shanghai the desi vs videshi argument is a spurious controversy stirred up for want of anything better.' This facile, politically illiterate comment could have been ignored had it not appeared in one of our more venerable dailies and had similar comments not littered the columns of other editorial pages.

To me it came as a reminder that the ``common man'' is some times wiser politically than those of us who think of ourselves as uncommonly well educated. In the Sonia context he is wiser because instinctively he appears to understand that India becomes a global joke the day we elect an imported leader. Who will take us seriously? But, there are more serious reasons why Sonia's foreignness will never be a ``non-issue'' and these relate as this column has pointed out before to matters of governance.

Already, one of our biggest failures as a country has been our inability to abandon ancient feudal attitudes and colonial ideas of governance. Think of how much more we regress if our only reason for choosing a foreigner for the most important job in the country is that she married into a political family. Why do we laugh then at Rabri Devi? Surely, she is more qualified than Sonia for high public office. She is at least Indian by birth. Speaking of which why is it that so few people remember that the lady who seeks to be our next prime minister has only recently acquired her love for India. How else to explain why, despite being the Prime Minister's daughter-in-law, she chose to remain a foreigner till 1983 when her husband's decision to enter electoral politics made an Italian wife a serious inconvenience. As it is when times got bad he was sneered at as Italy ka daamad.

Think of how much worse it will be if Sonia heaven forbid should make it to the Prime Minister's office and times get bad? What if there is another war with Pakistan, can you seethe Army chief reporting to a foreigner? Think of the answer to that question in the context of marriage to foreigners being forbidden to Army officers till not so long ago. Think of it also in a nuclear context and remember that it is the Prime Minister's hand on the button.

It will not just be in times of war that problems arise but even in matters of daily governance because every decision that Sonia makes will be questioned and viewed with suspicion. Beneath our supposedly civilised veneer let us not forget that every Indian child grows up being taught about the foreigners who ruled us for a thousand years.

The problems do not end there. If you think Hindutva is a nuisance already please stop and think of how much more rabid it is likely to become if it actually finds a raison d'etre for aggressive nationalism? Apres Sonia will come not the Bharatiya Janata Party or even the Vishwa Hindu Parishad but the Bajrang Dal.

So, instead of being attacked for saying what he did Sharad Pawar should be praised for daring to raise an issue that nobody seems to have the courage to raise any more. This is true not just of politics but of journalism. A colleague recently tried to count the number of columnists who openly opposed the idea of a foreign prime minister and, would it surprise you if I said, that he did not get beyond the fingers of one hand. Is it any wonder that foreigners found it so easy in the past to subjugate us?