India's tryst with another Gandhi
For a country that often uses democracy as a crutch to justify the anarchy and the underbelly of politics, India has not come a far way as far as the intrinsic nature of its politics is concerned. We still revere dynasties in one form or the other; if it is the young politician you are looking at, then many are in politics only because of who they are and not because of what they stand for and believe in.
The Gandhi surname in India has almost the same mystique as the Kennedys in the United States: a family born to rule as it were. But also like the Kennedys, a Gandhi can do no wrong in India and when he or she does, it gets magnified several times over. If you go back in history, there is no doubt that while Mahatma Gandhi gave India its freedom, it took another, Indira Gandhi to take it away when she, as Prime Minister, in 1975 imposed an Emergency in order to hang onto power and suspended all civil rights. It was only in 1977 that democracy once again reared its almost severed head and sanity was brought back into Indian politics.
But Indira was a different kind of Gandhi. While the Mahatma taught us unity and extolled the virtues of our diversity, Indira believed in the mantra: power at any cost and thus used the same democracy to practice a kind of politics that is the bane of modern India. She destroyed every institution that Nehru, India's first Prime Minister (and her father) established: be it the judiciary or the armed forces or for that matter even the bureaucracy. She injected divisiveness and thus laid the foundations of contemporary vote-bank politics, which includes the blatant articulation of hatred against one community or another. Indira Gandhi was the fountainhead of that debasement of politics and it is strange because she learnt at the feet of her father: Jawaharlal Nehru, the father of modern India and true secularist and liberal.
So does the surname Gandhi help? Does it carry a burden of responsible behaviour? Is a Gandhi supposed to do the right thing? Ever since Indira Gandhi's grandson, Varun Gandhi spewed venom against the Muslim community a fortnight ago, he has been reviled by many saying this was not expected of a Gandhi. But then people have selective amnesia: they've forgotten the Indira years. I guess, the surname no longer carries any meaning nor should it be expected to. In a strange way, while, his grandmother destroyed every public institution, this Gandhi is now hitting out at the very fundamentals that will not only destroy the peace and sanity of today's India but will also set a standard for debased politics for the future and this is my worry. It is indeed ironic that while the Mahatma stood for bringing the Hindus and Muslims together, to create one post-Partition India, this young man is doing just the opposite. Where does this leave the famed secularism that India often touts or crows about?
And is Varun Gandhi only articulating what already exists? I guess, years of divisiveness have created a polarisation that is now coming to the surface and this is the terrifying thought. If
you look at the support base that today's Gandhi has, it will alarm you: from right-wing religious groups to youth clubs on social networking sites, all seem to suggest a level of support which one would have never imagined. In many ways, this Gandhi has exposed India to another level of debasement, which we can either embrace or ignore: both at the peril of the idea of India. It is this, which must seize our attention. The entire sub-continent is sitting on a time bomb as it were and the last thing India needs is a brand of new-wave Gandhian politics that will completely destroy the fabric of this country. What is even more tragic is that while we can blame age and detachment from modern youthful thinking when we talk of India's senior politicians who are communal, there is a sweeping dismay when a young man all of 29 years, decides to embark on his political career by espousing the viciousness that he did. It is this image of youth-in-politics that is frightening. Because there is hatred rather than development.
Varun Gandhi is now in prison. For threatening the idea of India. Unlike the Mahatma who went to prison so that India could be free. In many ways, both are martyrs. One is an accidental one and the other remains venerated only when it is convenient. That is perhaps the sad journey that the Gandhi name has made in India. It now remains to be seen which brand of Gandhian thought we embrace going forward. There hardly seems to be a choice if seen through the prism of sanity but then sanity was sacrificed by yet another Gandhi, Indira, many years ago. And her grandson is only playing his part in this terrible political sequel.
More about Suhel Seth
Managing partner, Counselage