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Sonia Gandhi and India’s National Psyche

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June 2004
Sonia Gandhi and India’s National Psyche

Sonia Gandhi and India's National Psyche

The monumental exercise that is the general elections in India, held every five years, has been rightfully described as "the largest organized activity in human history." By any measure, it is an event of global significance when a nation of a billion people is able to peacefully execute a transfer of power of its highest offices.

This year the Indian elections provided an added dose of drama and suspense when, against the expectations of every political pundit, Italian born Sonia Gandhi, underdog by far, managed to defeat Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a strong incumbent riding high on the recent economic progress of the country.

Not surprisingly, Sonia's Italian birth launched a national debate that still rages even though she consequently relinquished the position to Manmohan Singh, former finance minister.

After their rude awakening, the BJP and its supporters such as Hindu nationalists lost no time in crying foul. Their argument, which is by now trite, went as follows: "A country of a billion people and not a single leader amongst us?!!" The suggestion, of course, was that as a nation we had no self-respect.

Sadly their criticism was not limited to their fellow countrymen who voted-in a foreign born as the Prime Minister. Ironically these saviors of Indian national pride then gleefully launched into an orgy of vicious and personal attacks on a women whose only fault was to step up to the call of her times. There was no depth too low for these crusaders. None other than information minister Pramod Mahajan insinuated a comparison between Sonia and Monica Lewinsky saying that if Indians wanted a foreign Prime Minister they could as well choose the former White House intern.

What Mahajan and others don't realize is that the Indian voters did not go out on a hunt for a foreign leader in an act of self-deprecation. Rather, turn of events landed an Italian-born in the lead of the formidable Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. In the face of disenfranchisement that voters felt from the "India Shinning" campaign, they sought solace in an institution that had name recognition with them.

But such probabilities were useless to those who were threatened by Sonia's foreign birth. Unfortunately many of them choose a smear campaign instead. And what better strategy than to cast doubt on Gandhi's foreign origins? Though, the duplicity of the Hindu nationalists is that they tout profound philosophy such as "Vasudaiva Kutumbakam" ("The world is one family") in vanity, while in practice their actions appear xenophobic.

Whether or not Sonia Gandhi would have made a good Prime Minister is certainly debatable. Indeed her critics are right to question her scant qualifications as well as her party's insistence on having her ride on the coattails of the family dynasty.

But what is hardly questionable is her identity and alliance as an Indian. Sonia has practically abandoned her Italian roots and is fully immersed in her Indian identity. To those who care to observe, it is clear that she eats, breaths, and lives India. To gain a perspective, one only needs to observe Indian-Americans and how significantly we continue to be latched onto our Indian identity while claiming all the privileges of American citizenship.

Therefore, political views aside, the personal vilification of Sonia Gandhi on the grounds of her foreign birth was not only a national disgrace, but also an affront to both, the Indian Constitution, and the voting public.

Parthiv N. Parekh


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