Swami Agnivesh & Valson Thampu

All of us, and not only some disgruntled politicians, are committed to the honour of our country. We love our country and deem it a duty to honour her uniqueness and protect her greatness. Let India be shamed by none, irrespective or their origin, Indian or foreign.

To the common man certain key issues emerge from the anti-Sonia tirade by the likes of Sushma Swaraj, Uma Bharati, Govindacharya, George Fernandes, and others. A brief reckoning of these issues may enable us to decide for ourselves as to who is shaming this great nation.

The foremost issue that emerges from BJP's hysteria at Sonia becoming the Prime Minister relates to the plight of women in our society. It is not the BJP's case that there is any Constitutional, political, or moral bar on Sonia's becoming the Prime Minister of India. She is a full-fledged Indian citizen and has the required numbers to back her. What, then, is the problem?

Let us listen to George Fernandes first. The white men came here, he says, as traders; whereas Sonia has come here only as a daughter-in-law, or bahu. To him, by implication, it is more honourable to be enslaved by traders than to be ruled by bahus. He can stomach, somehow, foreign traders ruling us but feels deeply insulted by being led by a foreign bahu, who has made India her home. Underlying George's anguish is a certain attitude to women, especially to daughters-in-law. Mercifully, this attitude to bahus is 'foreign" to our mainstream Indian culture. And it brings no honour to India. That such an attitude to bahus does exist on the fringes of our society is, alas, true. And it is this that that lurks behind shocking social evils like Sati and bride burning.

Yet another issue related to this is the injustice done to women at work. Both Sushma and Fernandes know only too well that Sonia was mainly responsible for humbling the NDA. She worked tirelessly and against all odds, reached out to people through the length and breadth of India and won their hearts. It is all right for her produce this splendid result, taking even Congresswallahs by surprise. But it is not all right for her to enjoy the fruits of her labour. In this, the plight of Sonia is akin to that of millions of women in our country, whose dedicated, sacrificial services go unnoticed and unrewarded. All too often, to take a familiar example, when children do well in studies the credit goes to their fathers; if they don't, their mothers get the blame. By cheating her of her legitimate dues, the BJP has, unwittingly, woven her into the plight of millions of women in this country. This accounts for the passionate sympathy Sonia today evokes from women all over the country, and it could prove costlier than her adversaries perhaps realize.

There is, then, the question of the plight of widows in our society. How should a Hindu widow live? It is instructive to listen to Sushma on the subject. She should tonsure her head, dress herself in white, eat chana and sleep on the floor! Wonder if Sushma or Uma would have the courage to recommend a similar ascetic way of life to widowers. Even if she does not, she has the temerity to expect the rest of us to endorse this naked assertion of gender-discrimination and parrot that this is to the greater glory of India. We would be too na´ve if we were to assume that this is only a personal outburst from an outraged Sushma. She is only articulating, more brazenly than others, the essence of the patriarchal Parivar ideology that has co-opted her. The immediate goal is to stigmatize Sonia personally and to incapacitate her politically. Isn't she, after all, a widow? And is this the way a widow should be conducting herself: being in active politics, upsetting the applecart of several men puffed up with pride and strutting in arrogance? Being a widow, what right does she have to be seen in public or to play a role in the affairs of the nation? She is a mere widow, after all, and Sushma will be only too happy to tutor her on living the stereotype of a meek and lowly widow.

The second set of issues in the BJP's 'foreign origin' script pertains to Indian ethos and spirituality. It is a matter of legitimate pride for us that while most other nations in the world were bound in parochialism and xenophobic tribalism, the spirit of India was truly all-embracing, universal and cosmopolitan. The Vedas taught us to open the windows of our consciousnesses to what is true and beautiful from all over the world. We did not see humankind as fragmented into a thousand warring factions, but as an extended family centered on God. We were not allergic to truth or light, because of their 'origins'. To us truth and greatness were like milk. Cows differ in colour, but that does not prevent us from accepting their milk. This is the true spirit of India to this day, as even the recent elections prove beyond any doubt. Voters right across the country rejected the BJP's attempt to foist its xenophobic mindset on the nation. Sonia's foreign origin is not a problem for the people. Of course, it is a problem for the BJP; for it contradicts the Parivar worldview and ideology. To the rest of us, Sonia's Indian citizenship, authenticated by the Supreme Court and enlivened by her passionate loyalty to India, is far more important than her foreign origin. The pre-historic prejudice that underlies the BJP's anti-Sonia allergy is a greater insult to the spirit of India, than her foreign origin is.

The third issue relates to spreading the epidemic of cynicism about what is noble and idealistic in our midst. Sonia's detractors invariably turn hysterical when any reference is made to her noble act of renouncing power. They betray an irrational eagerness to stymie her idealism. But, in their over-eagerness to take the credit away from her, they are discrediting themselves in the eyes of the discerning people of India. How each one of them parrots the same phrase -"power without responsibility"- has become a familiar joke. It proves the extent to which they, unlike the rest of us, have become cynical of anything that is noble and spiritually wholesome in public life. This is indeed the very seed of corruption. To those who are corrupt, the very presence of a person of authentic conviction and moral idealism is a symbolic rebuke. They experience a neurotic need to disfigure and tarnish that potential icon in an effort to drag her down to their own level. This is simple psychology. But this is not the psychology that will do India proud. It will not be too long before the people of India realize this to be an insult to the nation.

In a tacit reference to this perverse psychology Jesus said, "Do not cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, turn round and rend you." It may just be the case that Sonia knows the people of India better than the Sushma Swarajs and Uma Baratis in our midst. She has faith in the people. She trusts them to recognize and respect pearls of spirituality, even if there may be a few here and there who, enraged by their beauty and greatness, launch themselves into a campaign of vilification. If the reactions from around the country prove anything at all it is this, that the Indian masses see Sonia's act of renunciation as a pearl of great price. They are not amused by the eagerness of a few to trample it underfoot.

It is senseless to debate the authenticity of Sonia's renunciation of power within a short time-frame. Renouncing power is only one part of a spiritual agenda. And it is not the most important one, either. Renouncing something remains only a gesture if it is not to announce something else. Saying "No" becomes positive and constructive, only if it leads to saying, "Yes" to something higher. We have to believe Sonia when she says that she has acted in obedience to her "inner voice". It would be churlish not to. But we must also believe and hope that this "inner voice" will continue to speak to her on the destiny of India. That this inner voice will deny her peace and rest until the real enemies of India -poverty, illiteracy, injustice, prejudice, caste-and-gender discrimination, and exploitation of various kinds- are eradicated from this land. Our foremost need today is to foster a caring culture in politics and governance. Gujarat under Modi is a dark reminder of what happens to a society when its caring culture is willfully substituted with a culture of cruelty. As the people of Gujarat now realize, this is an all-round and terrible loss and everyone ends up as a loser.

Of course, the parivar hawks would want to prolong the 'foreign origin' debate as far as possible, if only for want of a substantive issue. They need to be answered with deeds rather than words. The true mettle of Sonia's renunciation has to be proved over the next five years through policies, priorities, and the enunciation of a national vision that integrates spiritual values with political processes. Then indeed will the nation as a whole be convinced and her critics sidelined, if not silenced.