Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Toddywalla instead of Gandhi, Indian democracy and secularism

This is about an old thought of mine, but anyway I am writing it down.

of a leader of Roman Catholic background (Sonia Gandhi) making way for a Sikh (Manmohan Singh) to be sworn in as Prime Minister by a Muslim (President Abdul Kalam), in a country 81% Hindu

This is an idea one often hears about (I am quoting Shashi Tharoor here). I am quite proud about this fact, of people of all religions having access to the seats of power in the country. What a charming way to present the idea of a country, and its success?

But a bit of closer look will point to a very different, rather sorry, state of affairs.

Like: How many Roman Catholic Prime Ministers we've had? None. Did anyone come near being one? No. But Sonia is a Roman Catholic, even though she was seen taking a dip during Kumbh Mela...

But of course she is there, in power, only because she belongs to the Gandhi family. She won elections because of her husband´s family name. Like Tharoor once said, what if Indira Gandhi had married a Toddywalla instead of a Gandhi?

Just like Rajeev Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi had easy access to power even though they were not real politicians and didnt earn it themselves, Sonia is also enjoying power without earning it. So, we cannot conclude that its possible for a Roman Catholic to be a Prime Minister of India from the data we have. But we can conclude - if you are from the Gandhi family - it does not matter what religion, sex or nationality you have, you can still be the head of Congress party, and control the power of ruling the whole country.

Now, about Manmohan Singh being Sikh and being a Prime Minister in a country with 81% Hindu population, the irony is that Singh does not contest elections (he failed the one he contested, when he was at the peak of his popularity - at least for a section of media and middle class intellectuals) and is afraid to do so. So he was just a nominee of the Gandhi family, someone who was injected by the powers above, who earned the power not because of their ability but because they belonged to the Family. So instead of Singh, it could have been Salman Khursheed or Ahamad Patel or AK Antony - had they enjoyed a bit more popularity with 1) Sonia 2) the Urban, English media.

About Abdul Kalam - he didnt hold any power, nor contested any elections. We have had Zakir Hussain and KR Narayanan (Dalit) before, and Prathibha Patel (woman), now. But the fact that a Non-Hindu has never held power in India on his/her own(i.e, non-symbolic, real power), but can hold only Symbolic power (President), doesnt it say something about the state of our democracy?

Is there much to be proud of all these symbolic things which go back to Nehru and his daughter´s husband´s surname? That even democracy shivers in front of that surname?

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