See also https://ridingtheelephant.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/another-shoe-is-thrown-another-indian-politician-a-target/ _______________________________________________________________________
It’s curious how the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is having unintended and totally unexpected impacts on India’s general election campaign which officially begins on April 16.
Varun Gandhi, grandson of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, has refocused the Bharatiya Janata Party’s fundamentalist electoral platform over the past three weeks, and now the memory of the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 has focussed attention on a less-than-savoury side of the Congress Party.
Both events, coincidentally, are highlighting extreme Hindu views regarding Muslims and Sikhs.
The dynasty has been hoping that the election focus would be on Rahul Gandhi, prime-minister-in-the-making, and on his mother, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party and the current coalition government, so that they would together get the credit for leading Congress to victory in a new coalition government. But these other events have now burst onto the stage.
Dealing with the second event first, a Sikh journalist threw a shoe during a press conference yesterday at Palaniappan Chidambaram, the home minister, because the Congress has allowed Jagdish Tytler, a controversial politician, to stand as a candidate in the election. [On April 9, two days after the shoe throwing, the Congress Party withdrew Tytler and another candidate from the general election in response to growing criticism].
Tytler has been accused for the past 25 years of being one of the instigators of vicious riots staged by Hindus against Sikhs after a Sikh security guard shot Indira Gandhi. The specific Tytler allegation relates to a Sikh temple being set on fire, causing the death of three people.
I was in Delhi at the time and saw how Sikhs feared for their lives as 3,000 were killed and the riots spread – riots that were undoubtedly encouraged by Congress politicians and not quelled for several days by the party’s leadership that included Rajiv Gandhi, who became prime minister (and was assassinated in 1991).
Sikh anger over those events has been reawakened by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) last week asking a Delhi court to clear Tytler of charges against him and to close the case that has been running through the courts for years. The court will give its verdict on April 9 [deferred till April 28] but, whatever it says, many Sikhs are convinced that the CBI was working under the instructions of the Gandhi-led government that wanted to clear Tytler so he could stand as a candidate.
If those suspicious are correct, the government’s plan has misfired, as became quickly evident today when protests against Tytler spread across the Sikh’s home state of Punjab, disrupting traffic and blocking railtracks.
Leading Sikhs defended the journalist. The SGPC, known as the Sikhs’ parliament, offered him a job and legal expenses, and the Shiromani Akali Dal, a Sikh political party, offered him a two lakhs of rupees ($4,000) reward and offered to make him a parliamentary candidate.
Reports suggest that Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister and a Sikh, is far from happy about the candidature of Tytler, who seems to have some hold over the party’s leadership. The government has today reacted to the protests by reconsidering his role.
The fact that Congress has not dealt with prosecutions stemming from the 1984 riots while it has been in power over the past 25 years seems to show an appalling bias. This strengthens the feeling of hurt and estrangement that fed the Sikhs’ call for Khalistan (a form of independence or autonomy for Punjab) through the 1980s.
The Varun Gandhi episode involves the 29-year-old son of an estranged member of the Gandhi dynasty who has become a prominent and cherished member of the BJP. Seen till now as a mild, soft-spoken young man who wrote poetry, he has suddenly become the poster boy of the BJP’s extreme nationalist wing since he was filmed allegedly verbally attacking Muslims and Sikhs (even though he is mother is a Sikh). He claims videotapes were doctored.
It is not clear whether his attack was planned with BJP leaders. Initially it was seen as detrimental to the BJP’s cause at a time when the party is trying to play down its nationalist Hindutva doctrine and make broad economic and developmental appeals to the electorate.
But the BJP has now decided to ally itself with Varun, and some leaders have visited him in jail, where he is being held for his inflammatory speeches. This is because, like it or not, Gandhi is playing to many BJP supporters’ deeply held anti-Muslim views, and he has rallied them to the BJP‘s cause – leaving other politicians to tut tut on the sidelines and regret that Gandhi had been quite so outspoken.
All this shows how nothing is ever simple in India. While Varun Gandhi’s mother is a Sikh, his late father Sanjay (Rajiv’s brother) was half Parsi and half Hindu. And Jagdish Tytler, born to a Hindu father and Sikh mother in what is now Pakistan, was brought up after his parents died by a prominent Christian educationalist.
You’d think that such diverse backgrounds would breed tolerance!
This post is also on the FT India page – http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5bb5a80e-243e-11de-9a01-00144feabdc0,dwp_uuid=a6dfcf08-9c79-11da-8762-0000779e2340.html