.....................The Sonia Club
.....................April 30, 2004
Everybody but (the answer is at the end of this article, don't cheat, wait till the last line!) wants Sonia Gandhi to become prime minister of India.
It is true there is nothing wrong with Sonia Gandhi, not even her white skin, contrary to what the RSS may say. In fact she is probably a good person, certainly a devoted mother, who educated her children with dignity and protected them the best way she could, after the terrible death of her husband (and her mother-in-law before) which must have shattered them all.
Surely also, she possesses other qualities which endear her to fellow party workers. She may even like India in her own way. Thus her Western origin is no bar to her becoming PM of India.
After all, India had a Sister Nivedita, born in Ireland, very white looking, who was not only the most faithful disciple of Swami Vivekananda, but also loved her adopted country so much that she -- a member of her Majesty's empire -- did not hesitate to encourage and help nationalists such as Sri Aurobindo. In the early 1900s, people like Sri Aurobindo were advocating throwing the British out, by force if necessary, when the Congress was only timidly asking for a few crumbs in the framework of an English India.
Definitely, Nivedita could have been the leader of the Opposition -- and why not -- one day prime minister of India.
Is this why most of the Indian English speaking media is projecting Sonia and her children in a big way, giving them diplomas, achievements and an aura which they don't necessarily have?
Look, for instance, how they often portrayed L K Advani's yatra in unfavourable light, or showed him with a frowning expression, while The Times of India kept printing such sweet photos of Rahul lovingly wiping his mother's face, as she was filing her nomination in Rae Bareli, or how NDTV interviewed Priyanka, with Rajdeep Sardesai asking her all the right questions, so that she came out as the loving sister and daughter wanting only to help an India beleaguered by castes and Hindu militantism?
Rahul has become their darling: nothing can be wrong with him, his looks, his innocence, his Spanish girlfriend (shows he is open-minded and not casteist), his diplomas (even though most Indian youth are much more educated than him). In the US, one would ask about his religion: can an American president be anything than Christian, as he has anyway to swear on the Bible when taking office? And what if Rahul is a Christian? 'We media persons, even though we may be born Hindus, are against Brahmanic intolerance.'
The BJP should not be complacent here: the Congress has scored quite a few points, thanks to Sonia's children and the help they get from the press. India loves nothing more than good children looking after their widowed mothers. And what the Western press calls dynasty -- with the Indian press promptly aping the word without thinking twice -- is nothing more than the innate respect that Hindus have for family bonding and family values.
The Indian media has redeemed itself, in some manner, by having printed the damaging article of the Swedish policeman who pointed a direct finger at Quattrochi and Rajiv Gandhi in the matter of the Bofors bribe. But then, editors like N Ram of The Hindu, had little choice, however much they may root for Mrs Gandhi: after all, The Hindu broke the story!
However, not all newspapers gave space to the new accusations and some chose to ignore them, or to put them on the seventh page in small characters, with the result that the story fizzled out and once more Quattrochi is off the hook.
The Western press loves Sonia even more -- I know, I am a Westerner myself! I remember one of my ex-colleagues at Le Figaro, one of the leading French newspapers, once wrote: 'She will bring sanity to Indian politics.' By sanity he meant probably that she will usher sound Western good commonsense in the muddy world of Indian politics. It may be also an unconscious colonial superiority complex that reincarnates itself in a politically correct manner, as it was already expressed by industrialised powers when India became nuclear: 'We can handle this, but not you, you underdeveloped Brownies!'
There is certainly also an element of secret Christian prosetylisation in it, although many foreign correspondents preach to be atheists, [they see] a covert battle between the virtue of the only true monotheistic faith, Christianity, as symbolised by Sonia, versus the polytheist pagans, as incarnated by the BJP's Gods. Many Western embassies are also furtively hoping for her ascending the Indian throne. Their mouth is watering when they visualise an Italian as the prime minister of a billion people: it will all throw them back to the glorious times of the British Raj, for which many Westerners are nostalgic, without mentioning the fact that it would make their task much easier ('after all, we belong to the same White Exclusive Club').
Even many of my friends in Auroville, Pondicherry, are hoping for the BJP's downfall and Sonia's ascent, not understanding that such a controversial and spiritualised project as Auroville finds more sympathy within the BJP than with Sonia Gandhi, who does not care much about Indian spirituality.
And lastly but not least (it goes without saying that most of India's Muslims and Christians are going to vote for her), many of the world Indologists, that is the experts on India, have bet their shirts that she will win. In fact most of them have been predicting the BJP's downfall for the last seven years!
Leading India specialists, such as Frenchman Christophe Jaffrelot, who has devoted entire volumes to Hindu fundamentalism, has been persistently advising the French government since the first BJP government in 1997, 'that Hindutva is a passing phenomenon, because Indian society is basically "secular" and that the Congress, the truly pro-minority party of India is bound to come back to power.'
In fact there is not an election, an important event in India, without Mr Jaffrelot and his peers, all belonging to the French government-sponsored CNRS and his affiliates (which have close ties with JNU and Romila Thapar), publishing some articles in prestigious newspapers like Le Monde on the dangers of Hindu nationalism 'which promotes casteism, untouchability and hatred towards Muslims' (remember Ayodhya, they have been saying for 12 years).
No wonder the French are only the 11th biggest investor in India, when after the nuclear test and the World Cup, they were hugely popular here and could have done anything.
What are then the criterion to become an Indian prime minister, if colour and origin are no bar?
First, to know the reality of India. This country is so diverse, so huge, so contradictory sometimes, that unless you physically experience it, from Cape Comorin to Ladakh, unless you have met its people freely, shared their joys and problems, suffered form the heat and the cold, and hunger, you do not know India. The trouble with Mrs Gandhi, her children -- and most Western correspondents -- is that they sit in Delhi, an arrogant city which thinks it understands everything, which wants to decide on everything, whereas it is totally decentered from the rest of the country.
There, you bathe in the vicious circle of journalists' parties and embassies' cocktails, where the same ideas, the same small talk is perpetually floating around. And unfortunately for Sonia, first because she lived a sheltered life in Delhi with her friends when her husband was a pilot, and then later because of security which totally cut her off from the real people of India, except in sanitized bits, she is hopelessly ignorant of the reality of India, like her husband was before her and her children will be after her.
In fact, as a fellow Westerner and European (and Latin, as Italy and France share the same linguistic roots), everytime I pass her fortress of 10, Janpath, I am shamed by the fact that she lives there like an empress of medieval times, brazenly surrounded by hundreds of security guards and sycophants fawning around her, while at the same time innocent Hindus in the valley of Kashmir are still being butchered without anyone giving a damn. I don't understand how she cannot see it herself.
Secondly and most important, you cannot comprehend India unless you practice, at least in some measure, its spirituality. For the greatness of India, whatever the foreign correspondents or the Indologists say, is its dharma, not Hinduism, but beyond Hinduism, the timeless Vedic spirituality, which has given the world hatha yoga, meditation, Pranayama, Ayurveda and the concept of the Avatar which allows for religious tolerance. And you don't have to be some highhanded guru or yogi meditating in his cave. No, the most humble villager in India practices spontaneously this spirituality.
He is born with it, it is in his genes. He accepts innately that God may be Krishna, or Jesus, or Buddha, or even Mohammad, who said right things for his epoch, but whose words were never adapted to modern times.
Whereas the Delhiwallah thinks he is tolerant and secular because he accepts the fact that Sonia Gandhi, an Italian, and a Christian can become the prime minister of his country where they are 850 millions Hindus, one of the most tolerant, spiritualised, brilliant people in the world today. But by this he only shows that he still has a colonised mentality and that Macaulay did good work. And you don't even have to be a Hindu: most of India's minorities, had, once upon a time, soaked a little bit of that tolerant and all inclusive outlook, so that a Syrian Christian would live in harmony with his Brahmin brother, or a Sufi saint would quote from the Gita. But then, the Portuguese Jesuits and the Mughals descended upon India with the sword in one hand and the Cross and the Koran in the other.
Can Sonia Gandhi, a Christian, understand that? It is doubtful. And this is why she can never become prime minister of India, it would set back India a hundred years, because whatever her goodwill and sincerity -- and nobody should doubt that -- she is totally unaware of the greatness and genius of India, for she does not embrace her ideals of dharma and spirituality. Nor her children.
And finally let me repeat my first sentence while filling up the gap:
Everybody -- Indian journalists, foreign correspondents, Indologists, embassies, Muslims, Christians -- want Sonia Gandhi to become prime minister of India. But for a larger majority of the people of India -- let them triumph.
The author is the correspondent in South Asia for Ouest-France, the largest circulation French daily (1 million copies).