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Why am I disturbed about Sonia as PM?

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May 17, 2004 12:54 IST

The Left parties believe in globalisation more than you or I would give them credit for.

Is not the Left's acceptance of a foreign-born person as the nation's prime minister proof enough? So what if the stockmarkets don't believe that?

Sure, the Left parties have vowed for ages to combat the perils of imperialist globalisation, as 'globalisation and communalism are the two faces of the same coin.' But, of course, that does not apply to outsourcing of the Indian prime minister.

Yes, to the Left, foreign companies are not welcome to invest in India, especially in banking, telecom, insurance and other sectors. So? At least we are liberal enough to allow an Italian-born lady to lead the nation.

India's Communists believe foreign companies have imperialist tendencies and practice economic terrorism to subjugate independent countries.

But then individuals are different from corporates, right?

Foreign firms deny rights to the locals, argues the Left. But we should be generous enough to make an exception when it involves the right to hold the highest office in the nation.

There's more: The Left also holds that globalisation is an effort to hand over power to Western forces and that it is imperative not to let Independence -- which took over a hundred years and thousands of martyrs to attain -- be surrendered to an outsider. But then that does not apply to the leader of the Congress party.

The job of the prime minister of India after all is too significant a matter to be left to a mere Indian.

Personal happiness is too sacred a thing to be allowed to be affected by trifling matters like who the prime minister of a country is. Or will be.

And yet, with Italian-born Sonia Gandhi set to become India's prime minister, I am unable to keep that queasy feeling of disappointment from gnawing at me.

Do I dislike Mrs Gandhi? No.

Am I consumed with the obsolete fear of foreign subversion that some folks talk about if the reins of the nation are handled by a foreign-born head of state? No.

Do I have reason to believe that things will pass into the hands of foreign powers if she runs the show in India? No.

Charges of 'deliberate non-involvement with the spirit and soul of India' have been levelled at her. Do I agree? No.

She has been charged with not having cut off the umbilical cord that attaches her to her country of birth. I would like to believe that she still has a strong bond with Italy.

Her cronies trumpet that this is the people's verdict, who showed the NDA the door and gave the mandate for her to be the prime minister. Well, would she have needed outside support if this were true?

She has been accused of being a 'reader leader', one who can neither speak Hindi nor English without an accent. Does it bother me? No. I am sure, she does not think with an accent.

I do not deny that she is a dignified woman, one who has suffered emotionally more than most when the nation lost Rajiv Gandhi. She is a good mother. She has learnt the Indian language, she has tried to merge with the Indian ethos and imbibe the Indian culture, maybe even attempted to understand 'Indianness'...

Is her taking over of the high office of the land a challenge to national prestige? Maybe. Do I doubt her political acumen, her accomplishments, skill, intelligence, vision, commitment, ability? Maybe.

I may seem to be insular, intolerant, bigoted, even a Sangh Parivar lackey. But I have no political affiliations. It doesn't bother me which political party holds the nation's reins or controls the nuclear button: they are all the same -- power hungry, manipulative, corrupt.

I never had any trouble accepting Mother Teresa as an Indian. I like foreign films. I do not have an aversion to everything that is imported from yonder shores: jeans, computers, cars... But an imported PM?

So why am I disturbed if Mrs Gandhi is about to take charge?

Frankly, I cannot explain why. It's an emotional thing, a sensation I can't quite put my finger onto -- like an itch I cannot scratch, like religious faith.

It is a feeling where you suspend judgment, and reflect in manner against which reason might probably rebel in saner moments. Logic cannot explain it.

I believe it is fashionable to project, allow, and accept a foreign-born person to hold sway over the nation. Maybe, it adds weight to your secular, liberal credentials. Maybe, it wins you brownie points amongst the intelligentsia. Maybe, it helps you don the holier-than-thou attitude and frown upon at the 'less liberal.'

For those who believe her foreign origin is not a problem, I have a question: Would she have been acceptable as the nation's prime minister if she were, say, Pakistani-born?

Be that as it may, Mrs Gandhi will soon be my prime minister. So maybe it is time to give her the benefit of the doubt. Conversely, it may also be a long rope.

Shishir Bhate is Deputy Managing Editor, and India Abroad

Shishir Bhate

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