Racism, Indian Style

1999

With the collapse of the Vajpayee government, the niggling fear that we've had for so long has finally come true. The very real prospect of Sonia Gandhi becoming the Prime Minister of India. And the thought of an Italian being ruler of India's billion people horrifies most of us. According to some newspaper reports, the BJP has already coined a slogan against Sonia "Abhi karega Rome raaj, Phir aayega Ram rajya" (now Rome shall rule, then will return Ram Rajya [BJP]). Further, former PM Chandra Shekhar said a "foreigner" must not be PM. (Sonia and Shekhar subsequently had a 45-minute meeting, to once again prove that in the power game, consistency between words and action is not a virtue).

Yes, it seems only natural that we recoil at the thought of having a "foreigner" rule the country. But is this revulsion justified? For a start, Sonia has lived in India for most of her adult life. She's a naturalised Indian and has made her home in India. Sure, she wasn't an immigrant in the classical sense of the word, but for all practical purposes, that's what she is. She left her home country and made a new life in another one.

As an NRI living in your adopted country, you don't expect doors to be slammed shut in your face just because you are an immigrant. All kinds of legislation exist at least in democratic western countries to ensure that immigrants are treated fairly, although quite a lot of this legislation comes in the form of anti-racism measures. Immigrants, Indians included, are part of the political landscape in many countries. And if Sonia was an immigrant black person running for the highest post in a predominantly white country, anyone daring to question her candidature on the grounds that she was "foreign" would immediately be branded racist.

But oh no. We don't think of ourselves as racists. We simply don't want foreigners running our country, right?! Granted, that with India's colonial past, deep suspicions are bound to remain. However, Sonia doesn't have a political power base in India that is staffed entirely by Italians to fall back on. In fact, as all of us know only too well, she derives her power from the sycophancy of the Congress party leadership, who in turn, doubtless see her as a vote-winner. Whether or not she can deliver these votes remains to be seen, only a general election can give us the answer to that. And what if she does deliver the votes and becomes PM? Can you imagine the kind of scrutiny every action of hers will be subjected to? This can only be a good thing, considering how gleefully our politicians abuse their power.

The point is that Sonia's Italian descent should not be grounds for debarring her from standing for the Prime Minister's post. Opposition parties are entitled to criticise her track record, her abilities and so forth. But attacking her for being a "foreigner" is simply not fair, and in any other country, opposition parties would be severely reprimanded for behaving in such racist fashion.

The truth is, that by enthusiastically engaging in the horse-trading that so characterises Indian politics, Sonia has proved herself to be as desi as our home-grown politicians.

- Chetan Dhruve in London

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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