If Sonia Gandhi loves India so much why did she become an Indian citizen only in 1983 after Rajiv entered politics? Asks Tavleen Singh, writer, columnist and indefatigable Sonia foe.
That’s exactly the wrong question to ask, even rhetorically.
If Sonia Gandhi was involved in some ghotala in the Agusta Westland helicopter scandal, that should be investigated. Absolutely. But to get into the melodrama of competitive desh prem is foolish and counterproductive. If Sonia Gandhi’s Italian connections helped grease the wheels during an Anglo-Italian helicopter deal, that should be exposed. But it has nothing to do with the purity of her love for India. As a journalist like Tavleen Singh is well aware, desh prem and desh looting can happily go hand in hand. The long list of scams by Indian politicians with undeniable asli desi roots from Lalu Prasad Yadav to Suresh Kalmadi to B S Yedyurappa is clear proof of that.
We know full well that citizenship is not the only proof of love for a country. It’s a passport acquired often for the most prosaic of reasons – marriage including same-sex marriage, jobs, children’s future, ease of travel. And the timing of when one becomes a citizen, or whether one becomes a citizen or not, is a deeply personal matter that often has no bearing on one’s love for a country.
Ask some of the strongest supporters of the BJP – the Overseas Friends of the BJP. Many of them have become American citizens phir bhi dil hai Hindustani. And in that case we laud them for it. None other than Narendra Modi flattered and stroked their egos at Madison Square Gardens. You may not have voted in 2014, he told them, but you were involved in the electoral process, you celebrated when the results came in. “Today I am here to thank you all,” he said to thunderous applause. And then he promised them visas on arrival in India.
Yet some of the same people turn around and hold up every instance of Sonia’s love or even affection for her own motherland as clinching proof of her duplicitous heart. And they fail to see the double standards there. “Madam Soniaji… do you have anyone known to you in Italy? Do you have relatives in Italy? Have you gone to Italy?” mocks Modi in an election rally in Thiruvanthapuram as if answering “Yes” to any of those questions is damning evidence that her Italian roots have not been fully expunged despite 48 years and counting in India.
This approach is self-defeating because it allows Sonia Gandhi to deflect the charge from corruption and bribery and joust with her opponents on an emotional plane, playing victim, invoking her 93-year old mother just as Modi has invoked his own nonagenarian mother.
“I was born to proud and honest people. I will never be ashamed of them…Yes I have relatives in Italy. I have a 93-year-old mother and my two sisters.”
The jibes of “Italian waitress” routinely directed her way by the likes of Dr. Subramanian Swamy are what is truly shameful, especially for a party that likes to flaunt its prime minister’s chaiwalla credentials. Whether she is good or bad, Sonia Gandhi’s bloodstained connections with her adopted homeland cannot be challenged. This is an old feudal country and Sonia Gandhi knows the power of that rhetoric of sacrifice. An Italian by birth, an Indian by choice, if nothing else Sonia understands the power of family drama.
“But it is here in my country India, it is in its earth that the blood of my loved one has mingled. It is here that I will breathe my last and it is here that my ashes will mingle with those of my loved ones.”
How much more good Hindu bahu can a Roman Catholic Italian sound?
For an Indian to abhor the fact that an Italian by birth could come this close to becoming prime minister of India is perfectly understandable. Not just Sushma Swaraj or the RSS, but old warhorse Congressmen like Sharad Pawar and P A Sangma could not stomach the idea. But the incessant Italian-baiting is equally abhorrent. Sonia’s opponents should face up to the fact that in our saas-bahu culture, Sonia Gandhi has played her cards as perfectly as the pleats on her sari. “I became a daughter-in-law, a mother and a widow in India,” she once said. Ektaa Kapoor could not have scripted it better.
And honestly, let’s not make fun of that Italian-accented Hindi in a country where Naveen Patnaik became chief minister of Odisha while barely able to give a full-fledged speech in Odiya.
The Telegraph reports that after Rajiv became Prime Minister Sonia and her children virtually gave up their annual Italian holiday, that when a visiting Italian dignitary spoke to her in Italian during the UPA years, Sonia replied in English. It just shows that love her or hate her, Sonia Gandhi has been a most dutiful Indian political bahu, perfectly pitched for her Indian audience. And there is no greater testimonial to that than the stamp of approval Indira Gandhi herself gave her especially as compared to her stormy relations with the other bahu, the non-foreign one.
This does not give her a clean chit in the Agusta Westland case. Sonia Gandhi might be corrupt but if she is, it’s motivated by the same things that drive corruption everywhere – money and power. The more her critics mock her foreign Italian roots to try and shame her, the more they expose their own shameful xenophobia.
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