Friday, April 10, 2009


In 1999, Sonia Gandhi visited the famed Hindu shrine at Tirupati amid a blaze of publicity. There is nothing wrong with any politician choosing to do so. But many people thought it offensive that she, a practicing Catholic, would enter a place that is, strictly speaking, forbidden to non-Hindus. 5
Worse, when one of the priests chose to ask her about this -- as he was legally entitled to do -- he was brushed aside by Rajasekhara Reddy, the prospective Congress chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in the election that was coming up. (As everybody in Andhra Pradesh knows, Reddy too is a Christian despite the name.) 5
This led to a flurry of debate, not least on the Internet. Many people were offended by Reddy's reputed assertion that nobody could question her credentials, as Sonia Gandhi was a member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. If this was a true report, I am intrigued to note that Reddy was implicitly associating 'Hindu' with 'Indian!' 5
This, I suppose, is an exercise in 'secularism'. And so it is, come to think of it, in the proper sense of the word, 'secular' means worldly, something or someone removed from the purely spiritual. Sonia Gandhi's reasons -- by implication those of the Congress -- are purely worldly. She is doing precisely what she accuses the Bharatiya Janata Party of doing -- mixing religion with politics. May I note in passing that the 'secular' media has been unusually quiet on this aspect? 5
Of course, I can understand why people in general visit Prayag in such numbers. This is a special occasion, a Kumbh Mela that began with a lunar eclipse. Such an event shall not take place again for 144 years. And in the wake of the pilgrim, the researcher and the reporter are bound to follow. (I wish that the latter two weren't quite so keen to sensationalise, but that is another story.) I cannot, however, remember Sonia Gandhi displaying any interest in Hinduism, in scholarship in general, or in journalism. 5
What the Congress president has done is a complete fraud from beginning to end. It is a cheap attempt to win votes. Yet it is, of course, all in the finest traditions of the Congress. When V P Singh stood from Allahabad as the joint nominee of the Opposition, the Rajiv Gandhi administration brought the troupe of Ramanand Sagar's television serial Ramayana to campaign. 5
The late prime minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi himself inaugurated his election schedule from Ayodhya in 1989, with a promise of 'Ram Rajya'. The media would have lambasted the Bharatiya Janata Party had one of its leaders tried these tactics. Rajiv Gandhi and his Italian wife are luckier. 5
Truth be told, I am more than little sceptical not just about Sonia Gandhi's interest in the Kumbh Mela, but her professed love for India itself. I recall that some television reporter asked Priyanka Vadra why her mother had taken so long to adopt Indian citizenship. The princess of 10, Janpath replied that it was only natural if someone took five or six years to make such an important decision. 5
This was a misleading response. Sonia Gandhi didn't take five years, but closer to fifteen. There is plenty of evidence that in her early years in Delhi, Sonia Gandhi had more European friends than Indian. (This list included Ottavio Quattrocchi and his wife, and Satish Sharma's Dutch bride.) 5
But forget all that, the Congress boss's attempt to curry favour by visiting Prayag isn't just 'secular,' remember it is the single greatest gathering of humanity in one place at one time. The local administration is under immense pressure to ensure that everything goes smoothly. The biggest rush is expected to take place on January 24 -- the day of Mauni Amavaasya. And now here was Sonia Gandhi throwing careful plans into disarray just two days before that! 5
The Congress president is entitled to Special Protection Group guards. As irritated Delhiites shall attest, this level of protection means inconvenience to everybody else, with the roads being cleared for the lady. Going to Prayag was nothing more than a way to irritate the genuine pilgrims. In effect, they were being asked to keep away from the sacred waters so that a silly politician could hog the cameras! 5
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  2. Mr Tripathi seems to be totally devoted to the Rajiv-Sonia family matters, if not so much about Nehru-Indira. However, to understand him, he needs to be read threadbare.