The sincerity and idealism in politics of the vice-president of the Indian National Congress makes him an enigma for the media. They can hardly admit that he is not among the most sought-after objects of their interest, but they are smart at not being able to fit him into their preconceived notion of politics and political leaders.
This is more so because many of them think, wrongly, that Narendra Modi, aggressive to the extent of impoliteness, does not pose any conceptual challenges. Shades of grey need some effort to identify and they are content to work with the black and the white. Let us look at what is unfolding in India and discover what India needs, in terms of shades or colours, of opinion and approach.
Rahul Gandhi is now asked for answers to things he was not associated with; merely because we, as well as independent activists, query what responsibility Modi must take for the mayhem that took place on his watch in Gujarat in 2002. Rahul Gandhi is determined to speak of the future, but the media and the Opposition want him to speak of the past.
Who do we now punish for Partition? Who do we punish for the demolition of Babri Masjid? Who do we punish for the assassination of Gandhiji, Indiraji, Rajivji? Who do we punish for the Mumbai riots? These are but a few of the tragic events that are blots on our history.
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But how long will we speak of revenge and retribution? How many history books must we burn and rewrite? How many more years of hope must we steal from our children? Can we not learn from Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela that truth and reconciliation can overcome pain and hurt of unimaginable dimension?
All pogroms and riots are wrong. Since the BJP loves comparing Gujarat 2002 to Delhi 1984, it is critical to point out that there is a fundamental difference, when looking at them in the context of the 2014 elections.
Forgot for a moment the fact that the Congress president and the PM apologised for 1984. Rahul Gandhi had no role to play in the Congress (and politics for that matter) in 1984. In contrast, Modi is the declared PM candidate of the BJP and he presided over the riots in Gujarat in 2002 as CM.
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People have argued that there was a failure of government during the fateful days in the aftermath of Indiraji's assassination. To disagree with that is proof of insensitivity and to accept it is somehow taken to be conceding personal guilt.
All of this overlooks that there was a collective failure of humanity in an insane culmination of a bloody saga of inhumanity, a sad aberration for our civilisation. It is time to make a sacred resolve that it will never happen again. I saw that pristine human feeling when I visited Cork and Toronto to pay tribute to the victims of the Kanishka crash. Year after year their relatives come to pay silent tribute, not in recrimination but in determination to say, ‘Never again, never.’
I do believe that those words reside deep in the heart of Rahul Gandhi. Great nations find closure to moments of anguish and trauma, as did America after the Civil War, Japan after World War Two, Germany, Vietnam, and South Africa. We did too until someone decided to reopen the past ostensibly to obfuscate incomplete narratives of living in denial about Gujarat.
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And here lies the second fundamental difference: The BJP and Modi have not let the wounds of 2002 heal. In fact, they use that plank to polarise. For the BJP, polarisation is part of its very ideology. For the Congress, the worst you can say is that 1984 was an aberration. Consider this: Modi did not field a single Muslim candidate from the BJP in three assembly elections in Gujarat post the riots. The Congress has had a Sikh PM and several Sikh CMs and MPs.
A ritual of remembrance can have an edifying impact but to hold the future hostage to the past has the potential for unending damage. Who then will answer the generations to come?
Salman Khurshid is minister for external affairs. The views expressed by the author are personal.