Thursday, May 25, 2006

Wise and worldly? Or, other worldly? Take your pick.

I’m wary of people who compare Sonia Gandhi to the so-called Mahatma and Jayaprakash Narayan for renouncing’ power at the last moment when Congress replaced the BJP as the prime mover at New Delhi in the last election. My own reading is, MK Gandhi was not interested in wielding it once India became independent. On 15 August 1947, he was in fact praying and fasting in Calcutta. He had gone there to quell the massacre of the innocent. That day, by the way, also happened to be the fifth death anniversary of Mahadev Desai, his principal secretary and close confidant from 1917. (This part of our history is succinctly and tellingly depicted in The Last Gandhi Movie, my unpublished novel. Narayan too was probably not power-enamoured at the end of the Emergency when a Janata Party government was swept into power by an anti-Indira wave. With Sonia, the decision to say No to the prime ministerial crown was probably motivated by her anxiety to avoid a near civil warlike situation and also perhaps personal safety. To me, it seems a worldly-wise decision, not a saintly one. But I could of course be totally wrong in my reading. Because she “told her MPs she had decided to listen to her ‘inner voice’.” – in an MK Gandhi-like pronouncement. Her reference to ‘conscience’ had prompted a VHP hate spam e-mail with ‘Whose conscience?’ in the subject line. It seems ‘conscience’ is the prerogative of the chosen few: the practising Hindus who want to demolish mosques and build temples in their stead. And, if you happen to have been born outside India, you’d better not even utter the sacred word with your infidel tongue.

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