Between Rishi Sunak and Sonia Gandhi: the hypocrisy of India's Hindu supremacists
They are celebrating a person of (doubtful) Indian origin becoming the British Prime Minister but they couldn’t stomach the idea of Sonia Gandhi holding an elected political office
Rishi Sunak’s elevation as Britain’s Prime Minister is being celebrated in India as a historic achievement by a person of Indian origin. There is of course nothing wrong with a nation feeling elated if an immigrant with ancestral roots in the country ascends to a high place in foreign skies.
However, we need to be a little more temperate in claiming Rishi Sunak’s triumph as our own. In India today, emotion is relentlessly battering reason so as to drive it out of the national psyche. It is doing much the same thing in the Rishi Sunak case, allowing emotions to overcome reason.
As Indians we possibly see Sunak as an Indian by ancestry, and so does Pakistan from where his grandfather migrated to Africa in the mid-1930s.
The merchants of emotion, however, are branding him as a ‘proud Hindu’. They have dug out pictures of Sunak praying at a Hindu temple, sitting reverently on the floor before a Swami, venerating a cow etc. and posted them on social media. They are also reminding us that Sunak took oath as an MP on the Bhagavad Gita.
Seven years before Rishi Sunak became Britain’s Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, again a man of Indian origin, took over as the Prime Minister of Portugal. Does anyone remember any celebration for Costa’s ‘coronation’ taking place in India of the kind that we witnessed with Sunak’s ‘coronation’?
Their game is all too obvious. They want to wear him as a jewel in their Hindu crown. They want to showcase him as a testimony to the greatness of the ‘Hindu genius’, as a link in the infinite chain of ‘ancient Hindu glory’.
In the past few years, they have polluted the country’s environment with the toxic fumes of their wildly self-serving and cataclysmic versions of Hinduism whose sole target has been the Muslims. Their Hinduism is more anti-Islamism than Hinduism.
They in fact would not give an inch to any of the Semitic religions—Islam, Christianity or Judaism—in India. They want their followers to conform to Hinduism to prove their ‘Indianness’. They make a Catch-22 offer to them: ‘You are free to worship your God, but you must follow the Hindu culture.’
Now, the culture of a community is often linked to the religion it follows. Asking non-Hindus to follow Hindu culture virtually amounts to asking them to follow Hindu religious culture.
Unlike them, Rishi Sunak is—even while being a ‘proud’ Hindu—a pluralist. He takes oath on the Bhagavad Gita but would not want other MPs in Britain to do the same.
If the emotion merchants really want to use Sunak as a gem to decorate their crown, they will have to embrace both parts of him—a proud Hindu and a proud pluralist. They cannot selectively pick the Hindu part of his religious worldview and reject the pluralist part.
If the emotion merchants really want to use Sunak as a gem to decorate their crown, they will have to embrace both parts of him—a proud Hindu and a proud pluralist
If he is a symbol of Hindu pride, they have to accept him as a proud Briton as well, who possibly likes his steak, having lived and worked in the US, and fish and chips.
It is doubtful they would do it though. Seven years before Rishi Sunak became Britain’s Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, again a man of Indian origin, took over as the Prime Minister of Portugal.
Does anyone remember any celebration for Costa’s ‘coronation’ taking place in India of the kind that we witnessed with Sunak’s ‘coronation’? Were pictures of Costa at a communion in a church, sitting before a bishop or making sheep and cattle for a Christmas crib dug out and posted on social media? Was there any mention that he took oath on the Bible?
No, nothing of the sort happened. The only people who experienced collective pride in Costa’s elevation were Goans in general and Goan Christians in particular. The merchants of emotion showed no eagerness to lay a claim to Costa’s achievement or ancestry.
The reason was obvious. He was a Christian. There was no place for a ‘proud Christian’ in Hindu collective pride. If it were not Costa but a Kosambi, they might have bought the whole of Sivakasi for the celebration.
To the Britishers, Sunak is an icon of multiculturalism, so is Costa to the Portuguese. Sunak belongs to an ethnic minority that follows a religion different from the majority of Britons. He is brown in a predominantly white and colour-conscious country. Yet when the Tory MPs elected him their leader, they did not look at his religion, ethnic origin or skin colour. They looked at his merit; they saw him as the best man who could do the job.
Costa also comes from an ethnic minority, though he follows a religion followed by a majority of the Portuguese. He too is brown. But his ethnic ancestry and skin colour did not come in the way of his selection as the candidate for prime minister by the centre-left alliance. They chose him because he had earned a reputation as an outstanding Socialist politician.
Nor did the opposition in England or Portugal ever attack Sunak or Costa on the ground that they were men of ‘foreign origin’. There were no agitations, litigations, allegations, insinuations, invectives, slurs or barbs designed to stop them from taking over the prime minister’s office.
There were no threats and no ultimatums. They might have been attacked for their policies and performance, but never on the origin of their ancestors.
Where does India stand in comparison to Britain and Portugal while accepting persons of foreign origin in political offices? We have to only recall Sonia Gandhi’s case for the answer. In May 2004, she had led the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to unseat the Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
The MPs of the Congress and the allied parties were all set to elect her as their leader. But the BJP kicked up a vituperative campaign against her. Canards were spread that she was not an Indian citizen, that she still held Italian citizenship, that the Constitution did not allow a person of foreign origin to be the prime minister and so on.
The fact was she had acquired Indian citizenship way back in 1983, over two decades before she was being accused of not doing it. As far as the Constitution was concerned, it allowed any Indian citizen to become the prime minister. It did not bar a person of foreign origin who had become a citizen from holding a political office.
Yet, despite the fact that she was an Indian citizen, she was denied the office by the emotion merchants. If the emotion merchants had believed in pluralism as the Britishers and the Portuguese do, they would not have attacked her for her foreign origin. They would have let her take over as the prime minister and attacked her for her policies and performance as the holder of that office.