“Sonia, Swadeshi and Videshi” by Kancha Illaiah

A debate has been started around Sonia Gandhi’s citizenship rights,
Specifically, over whether, as a woman of Italian birth who married into an
Indian family, she is entitled to all citizenship rights, including the right to
contest elections, and, in the event of being elected to the Indian
Parliament, whether she can hold a post like that of minister or Prime
Minister. The BJP and its allies have raked this up as a political morality
issue, as the Congress proposed her name for the position of Prime
Minister. Even political parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Telegu
Desam joined the issue along with the Sangh Parivar forces.
Ever since Sonia Gandhi became the president of the Congress the Sangh
Parivar has started a systematic campaign about her Christian background
and also her videshi (foreign) origin. Their attacks on Indian Christians, in
fact, started as part of this campaign. Their notion of swadeshi is equated
with their notion of Hindutva. In the forthcoming parliamentary elections
the BJP and its allies, it appears, will make the foreign birth of Sonia Gandhi a major campaign plank.

In the background of India’s experience as a colonized country such a plank may influence the urban upper caste middle classes. Even a section of
educated Dalit-Bahujans may also get carried away with such propaganda.
But such a campaign will destroy the very notion of natural justice and it
will redefine the concept of citizenship in classical brahminical terms.
In the classical brahminical understanding, a Shudra or a Chandala has no
right of citizenship. As a corollary of this understanding, they do not have
the right to rule a state except by defiance, which invites crushing by force.
Only the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas had citizenship rights. This exclusive
citizenship right granted to two upper caste communities, according to
Ambedkar, was responsible for foreign domination and political control of
India by foreigners at different intervals. Because of the exclusive
citizenship rights held by the upper castes, these communities were always
perceived by the productive masses, who won citizenship rights only
during the colonial period, as more foreign than the White rulers
Thus, even a person like Vajpayee, whose descendants never lived as part
of the masses, does not automatically become ‘our man’ simply because he
was born in India, and for the simple reason that Sonia Gandhi was born in
Italy she does not automatically become ‘their woman’ so far as the masses
are concerned. In fact, both Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi are alien to the vast

Dravidian masses of India. Even though their skin colours differ, both of
them look foreign to the masses.
Once a person becomes a citizen of a country, his/her birth should not
become a point of propaganda. Particularly, the principle of democracy and
the understanding of citizenship rights must deter political agencies from
indulging in such propaganda. If the vote mobilization strategists of the BJP
and its allies think that the Italian birth of Sonia Gandhi can legitimately be
made a point of political propaganda, by the same logic Vajpayee’s birth in
a Brahmin family can and should become a similar point. Because in terms
of the day-to-day life of the SC, ST and OBC masses, Vajpayee’s community’s
social life is more distant even today than that of the community into which Sonia Gandhi was born and brought up.

The Whites touch all castes and taste all foods unlike the upper castes even
today. It is a different thing if Sonia Gandhi is seen as part of the Nehru-
Indira Gandhi family, whose basic social roots are not different from that of Vajpayee: Kashmiri Brahmin. But in a major respect the Nehru-Indira
Gandhi family became different from that of Vajpayee. It became a family of plural cultures because of the inter-religious marriages that took place over a period of time. It is a known fact that Feroze Gandhi, husband of Indira Gandhi, was a Parsi, Sonia Gandhi came from a Christian background, while Priyanka Gandhi is married to a Christian. Such a social transformation through family ties should be respected rather than attacked.

Should the nation treat such a transformation of families as criminal?
Do Vajpayee’s election strategists want to arrest social fusion and construct
everything into the mould of brahminical Hindutva?

The nation has not yet forgotten the fact that Indira Gandhi, while she was
the Prime Minister of the nation, was not allowed to enter the Puri
Jagannath temple as she was treated as a Parsi. At that time, if I am not
wrong, Vajpayee was a member even if he was not a prominent leader in
the party.
Did he oppose such religious barbarity?
Did he build a movement to reform his beloved Hindu religion?

This nation should have been proud of Indira Gandhi’s courage and
conviction to have married a person from a community that upholds the
dignity of labour. It is in this community that a woodcutter proudly calls himself/herself Lakdawala, a vegetable vendor Tarkariwala, a shoemaker a Mochiwala and all of them are equal in their religion. No Parsi temple closes its door to any human being.

Have Hinduism or the Hindutva party that Vajpayee leads with such pride
today, ever tried to learn any social morality from that community?


The BJP and its cadre collected information about Sonia Gandhi’s
background in the minutest detail. Do they dare to put such details about
Vajpayee, Advani, and so on, before the nation? The slogan and the snide
remarks that get passed about Sonia smack of the cultural degradation of
the Hindu patriarchs. The religious bigotry of these forces puts the whole
nation in a bad light in the international community.
When Indira Gandhi faced the first elections in 1967 the Opposition and
also the ‘Conservative Congress’ leaders attacked her sexuality,
widowhood, her relationship with her husband, and so on. The Indian
masses did not care. Many so-called veterans that attacked her did not even
get back their deposits. One gets the feeling that by talking more and more
about the personal background of Sonia Gandhi the Hindu patriarchs are
going to dig their own grave. These political parties should know that if
they talk more and more about Sonia Gandhi’s videshi-ness she will bring
in the sacrifices of the Nehru-Gandhi family and she will also rope in
Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by the RSS for purposes of election
propaganda. After all as the granddaughter-in-law of Nehru, she can count
many more martyrs among her near and dear ones than Vajpayee can think of doing. In fact he does not have any. The martyrdom of one vote in the parliament does not become equal to the heads of her mother-in-law and husband. Let us not forget the fact that the nation does not survive by
counting who has more swadeshi martyrs in their cupboards.
The so-called swadeshi-walas should remember that the Congress was
started by A. O. Hume and once was headed by Annie Besant, and both of
them were foreigners.
The nation should not debate whether Sonia Gandhi is videshi or swadeshi,
but rather ask: how swadeshi was Vajpayee’s government during the 13
months it effectively ruled the nation?
What improvement did it bring about in the living standards of the rural
and urban poor?
What happened to land distribution?
What happened to the Women’s Reservation Bill?

What are the prime ministerial candidates going to offer the nation in
terms of their programmes?
During the last 13 months several wrong trends have set into the system.
Religious bigotry and brutal casteism have taken new forms to commit
atrocities on the innocent masses. Insecurity among Christians is forcing
them to withdraw from many social service sectors where they had been
rendering vital services—schools, hospitals, old-age homes, destitute
homes and so on. The Hindutva forces that attacked the agents of social
service have not established any alternative service structures. The Dalits
in many parts of the country have become easy targets. What remedies will
the new government provide for all these maladies? The parties and the
prime ministerial candidates should place their positive programmes
before the nation which is going to enter the twenty-first century with the
highest percentage of illiterates, unemployed youth, child labourers, HIV-
positive patients, and so on.

-Kancha Ilaiah
Deccan Chronicle, 9 May 1999

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