You are a young man at the peak of your promise and abilities and I am an old man nearing the fag end of mine. But there are privileges that come with age, and one is to explore questions that may be entirely unsolicited, even unwelcome.
Hence this note!
There are over a billion Indians. You now stand poised to hopefully don the mantle of unparalleled power and authority in the largest functioning democracy in the world.
The baton will pass to either Narendra Modi of the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) with the defining agenda of Hindutva at its core that diminishes all minorities, or to you and the Congress Party. The BJP stands indicted of the 2002 killing of thousands of Muslims while the Congress Party was responsible for masterminding the 1984 attempted genocide of Sikhs. These are not the only sins of either side, merely the most prominent of a whole litany of issues.
To the minorities of India then this election offers only two bleak and chilling alternatives: Hobson’s choice of the devil or the deep blue sea. Or as they say in American parlance: life between a rock and a hard place.
India: unceasingly and seductively mystifying. In today’s world there are very few nations like it. India deserves better!
But India also presents mind-blowing complications and complexities. It has a far more intricate reality and fractious history than the entire European Union. It has been a united single nation of India for relatively brief interludes, such as the Mughal period in the 16th and 17th centuries or later under the British from the 18th to 20th centuries. Since that period, as a free nation its history is only 67 years young; the nation is still constructing its identity and place in the world.
In 1947 India emerged as a free nation with your great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, at the helm. Also around at the time were stalwarts like M.K. (Mahatma) Gandhi, Vallabhai Patel, Maulana Azad, C. Rajagopalachari, and many other veterans of the titanic struggle for independence. I am not going to dwell on the fact that perfect they were not but they had a philosophic bent and truckloads of experience of working with a people. Even if they did not fully respect or understand it they had a decent sense of the diversity that was and is India.
Somewhere, somehow your grandmother (Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter) got the dumb idea that the right to rule India was hers by entitlement. And this sowed the seeds of what else but cronyism and nepotism. She was able, shrewd and bright but had little sense of the people she was governing. Otherwise she would not have suspended the Constitution to rule by fiat in the 1970’s; nor would she, in the 1980’s, have targeted and demonized the Sikhs who have an unexcelled and proven history of patriotism. The result was that she brought the nation to the verge of dismemberment in a conflagration that claimed her life.
Her son (your father, Rajiv Gandhi) then inherited the mantle of power. What were his qualifications in statecraft except that he was the supreme leader’s son? He was an airline pilot plucked to ascend to power. His end was like his mother’s. A political novice assassinated by his own people.
Talk of familial nepotism!
Rajiv’s widow, your mother Sonia Gandhi, inherited absolute power within the ruling political party. But she was culturally and by birth Italian so the title of head of government in India would have been awkward. So, she controlled the power but without the corresponding title. Luckily her bias was to use power softly and generally for good.
She tried to mollify the Sikhs who had been grievously wronged. She brought a capable Sikh, Manmohan Singh, to lead the country but he was hamstrung in his freedom of action. Most importantly, she couldn’t deliver justice to Sikhs. Attempting that would have meant openly digging up the misdeeds of her husband (your father) and mother-in-law (your grandmother).
And now it may be your turn at center stage.
Charitably put, you have half-heartedly acknowledged the evil that was done to the Sikhs by your political party and its members in 1984. I don’t know whether your heart is in it but to do more can’t be expected or easy. One can’t really expect you to spit on the memory of your ancestors. It’s true that the sins of the fathers should not visit their sons but the son (you) has to convince the people on how your agenda consciously, specifically and deliberately departs from that of your father or grandmother.
There is yet another crucial caveat here as well that should not be sidestepped. It has to do with your personal values, credentials and record; in other words, your resume for the job.
Tell us what exceptional experience or ability do you come with to deal with the superhuman complexities and challenges that modern India faces?
You have never even run a medium-sized company or business entity, much less a politically, culturally and religiously diverse and divided nation, however small.
Dig up the musty old records from your own (which is also your father’s and grandmother’s) political party at the time when your grandmother, Indira Gandhi, grabbed power. She was then summarily dismissed by the old guard, like Morarji Desai et al, as just another pretty face, an easily manipulated doll to be simply sidelined because her credentials were so slim. It is true that she proved more than equal to the challenge and was able to deftly outmaneuver the old guard.
We can’t but wonder if this experience shaped and hardened her authoritarian stance and policy missteps that became her defining markers. You don’t want to be painted by similar broad brush strokes. In contrast Manmohan Singh never behaved as if he was power hungry and, despite his many shortcomings, that earned him respect and acceptability.
Perhaps you should have spent the two terms of Manmohan Singh’s tenure as prime minister to serve an internship in a couple of critical but lower level positions.
That’s how and where you could have learned a little of the problems, complexities and possibilities on issues that excite and ignite the people of India.
I wonder if anointing you as the head of the government at this time would be like throwing a lamb to the wolves. And I would hate to see you embrace the same ends as your ancestors — a young man of possible promise, walking the path of Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. A sacrificial lamb? I wouldn’t wish that fate on my worst enemy.
But then I look at the BJP that is the only alternative to your political party and I am left speechless.
Don’t you think that India deserves better?