The Other Gandhi

The Other Gandhi

~ Tanvi Surti ‘12

The name Gandhi inspires several emotions in Indians – respect, reverence and confidence. Whether it be the Mahatma himself or Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi – there are immediate assumptions made about their level of education, their upbringing, their ability to lead and their patriotism (with the notable exception of Indira Gandhi, but she holds her own as a pre-independence freedom fighter). But most importantly, the name Gandhi inspires the assumption that he/she shall in no way be associated with any religious politics, which is characteristic of the BJP/RSS family. They will not be associated with any controversy surrounding Hindu-Muslim riots nor would they not make any inflammatory comment about a minority.

The Gandhis, in short, have never been Hindu fanatics.

But this changed on the morning of March 16th when the country woke up to the baby-face of Varun Gandhi splashed all over media channels. Varun Gandhi is the third grandson of Indira Gandhi and the great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. He is an upcoming politician and is contesting a seat in the upcoming House of Commons (Lok Sabha) elections in India.

Varun Gandhi’s political career jump-started with the unconventional choice of joining the BJP unlike his ancestors who have always been a part of the Indian National Congress. Sadly, Varun Gandhi’s rebellion against his family does not end there. Unlike his great grandfather, who was the spokesperson for secularism in India and unlike his namesake – Mahatma Gandhi, who was the epitome of religious tolerance, Varun Gandhi set himself firmly under the umbrella of Hindu politics at the age of 25. He has vehemently defended the BJP around controversies such as their involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots and their association with the extremist RSS family (a party which had bred Mahatma Gandhi’s assassins). He has also pledged support for the BJP around the Ayodhya land controversy – a land which was previously occupied by a mosque but is now a site of dispute due to claims that it should be replaced by a temple due to religious significance of the land (Ayodhya being the kingdom of Lord Ram according to Hindu mythology).

However, the incident which catapulted Mr. Gandhi to national attention happened on March 16th while he was touring a rural area in central India. While Varun Gandhi has always advocated Hindu identity, this particular speech was exceptionally derogatory towards Muslims. While most of his speech included expletives directed towards Muslims which had to be edited out by news channels, the message he was trying to convey came loud and clear – young Mr. Gandhi is the new poster boy for Hindutva.

The highlight of the speech was the claim that if any Muslim did as much as raise a hand on a Hindu, he will personally cut it off. The immediate political reaction in BJP and Congress circles registered shock. Mr. Gandhi too, seemed taken aback at the media attention to his speeches –his speech was only intended for rural extremists, not urban India.

Stepping over the blatant hypocrisy, Gandhi’s insensitive and irresponsible comments could have snowballed into another Godra-aftermath. But perhaps sparking riots is just another day’s work for Varun Gandhi. An immediate court case was registered against Gandhi while the nation still reels in shock. Varun Gandhi was detained in prison and awaits trial.

Extremist politicians are not new in Indian politics. For a generation which has seen the likes of Narendra Modi, Raj Thackeray and L.K. Advani, this is yet another politician who targets minorities. However, what is most saddening about this incident is its redefinition of the name ‘Gandhi’ in Indian politics.

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