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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 20, May 2, 2009

Nehru Must Be Turning In His Grave

Saturday 2 May 2009, by Nayantara Sahgal

[(The following views of Nayantara Sahgal, a distinguished writer and herself a niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, on Varun Gandhi’s hate-speech were conveyed to Sheela Reddy who put them in the form of a piece that appeared in Outlook (March 30, 2009) from where it is being reproduced, with due acknowledgement, for the benefit of our readers. —Editor)]

There’s only one word for the speech that Varun Gandhi gave in Pilibhit last fortnight—disgraceful. It’s horrifying that anybody could speak like that, doubly so when it happens to come from someone who is even remotely connected with the Nehru-Gandhi family. I say “remotely connected” with deliberation, because, while Varun is no doubt a fourth-generation descendant of the family, let us not forget that both he and his mother, Maneka, made an open break with the family. Varun may have only been a toddler when Maneka severed her ties with the family, but he struck out just as irrevocably when he joined the BJP some five years ago. His break with the family and its ideals was just as decisive as his mother’s. He owes his allegiance to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now, and his connection to the Nehru-Gandhi family is now completely irrelevant.

Which is why I am a little surprised at the way the media has been reporting Varun’s speech, constantly referring in the same breath to his Nehru connection. The point is that Varun Gandhi is a member of the BJP. What else do you expect any member of the BJP to say? After all, the BJP is the party that has divided the country on the basis of religion. It’s also the party that destroyed the Babri Masjid, the party whose role model is Narendra Modi, on the strength of a massacre in Gujarat. Varun now belongs in the camp that is taking India back to the Middle Ages.

India has a long and ancient history that has demonstrated that Hinduism has an awe-inspiring resilience, which has enabled it to survive throiugh the ages. It does not need all these self-appointed guardians, like the BJP, the Shiv Sena—or any other kind of sena—to safeguard Hinduism. Parties like these are a danger to India. Not just Nehru, even Feroze Gandhi, Varun’s grandfather, must be turning in his grave at some of the things he is saying.

The difference between Varun and his cousins, Rahul and Priyanka, is that while they were nurtured on the family’s secular ideals, he was simply not there. He may have kept up with his cousins and his aunt, Sonia, but having not been brought up within the family, he lost out on his family inheritance, both the ideology and the training. I had my differences with Indira Gandhi, of course. But we were on the same side on many things, especially secularism. Whatever differences I had with her were because I was speaking and writing in defence of Nehru and what he stood for, and I felt the path she took was going ultimately towards the Emergency—which she herself recognised as a mistake. We were never in divergence on ideology, but on the fact that I felt she was departing from Nehru’s own ideals.

The Congress, whatever its sins, is dedicated to secularism and the unity of India. These religion-based parties are not. Priyanka and Rahul grew up with these ideals. Varun did not. So what if he bears the family name? Many people bear that name: it’s neither here nor there. And if the BJP picked him because of his name, that’s the BJP’s problem, not the family’s.

I haven’t seen Varun since he was a child. But to hear what he is saying now makes me very angry. Even if I were to meet him now, there is nothing I could say to him. He and I don’t speak the same language. There are two languages being spoken in India today: one is Hindutva, and this is finding its own defendants, like Varun and so many others. It’s a language that should be severely condemned and punished so that it doesn’t damage India any further. From what I have read in the papers, his inflammatory remarks have already led to small riots in Maharashtra. The Ayodhya issue is being raked up and some CDs called ‘Ayodhya Chalo’ are being circulated. The other language is secularism and peace and equal respect for all religions. That is the language I speak, and that is the language of the Congress. It would be interesting to know why Varun Gandhi has turned his back so squarely against everything his name stands for.

(Courtesy: Outlook)

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