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Perception vs truth

Is it an irony or a paradox that as different members of the large Nehru-Gandhi parivaar lock horns over what it is to be hindu questions are being raised about just how hindu they are, asks Karan Thapar.

india Updated: Apr 02, 2009 15:49 IST

Is it an irony or a paradox that as different members of the large Nehru-Gandhi parivaar lock horns over what it is to be hindu questions are being raised about just how hindu they are? We tend to assume that Rahul, Priyanka and Varun are hindu but their parentage would suggest otherwise. And certainly by birth and upbringing Sonia is not a hindu – she’s catholic.

So let’s start by unraveling the forgotten bits of their history. Indira Gandhi’s husband and, therefore, Rajiv’s and Sanjay’s father, Feroze, was a Parsi. That makes the two boys half-Parsi and only, at best, half-Hindu. In turn both of them married non-Hindus. Sonia, as we know, was Catholic. Maneka, as we seem to have forgotten, is Sikh. Therefore their children — Rahul and Priyanka as much as Varun – are three-quarters non-hindu and only a quarter-Hindu.

By parentage — and its important to emphasise that they could be something else by choice — Priyanka and Rahul were born half-Catholic, a quarter-Parsi and a quarter-Hindu. By the same method of calculation, Varun is half-Sikh, a quarter-Parsi and a quarter-Hindu.

These fractions are not important. They are mere matters of detail. But in the midst of the present controversy they are a useful corrective. They establish just how ‘hindu’ this generation of the family actually is.

Now, if you go by the position that caste is inherited from your father, then there are also a couple of things these three young Gandhis are not. They’re not Kashmiri pundits – though Jawaharlal, their great grandfather, and Indira, their grandmother, clearly were – and they’re not brahmins either.

But there is something that they are of which all three could be very proud. Because of their mixed ancestry, which embraces and amalgamates India’s minority faiths with its majority, the three Gandhis are a delightful religious pot pourri – or kichdi, if I may be blunt – that represents the solution and, I hope, the future of India’s often quarrelling communities. It’s when we’re prepared to marry each other, regardless of religion and caste, that we will have finally broken down and dispensed with the barriers of creed and jaat. The Gandhi children are products of such marriages.
And yet, bizarrely, the Gandhis don’t present themselves in this way. Rajiv and Sanjay seemed to forget — perhaps even ignore — their Parsi half. As far as I know, Rahul and Priyanka have never spoken of their catholic ancestry. And even Varun is silent about his sikh grandparents.

If the reason is that it could alienate voters in Hindu-majority India, then what does that tell you about the Gandhis? That they care more about not offending popular prejudices than standing up for secular values? At first that might sound a trifle harsh but could it be the explanation? Think about it.

<b1>The Gandhi children have the good fortune of being a bit of this and a bit of that. It makes them truly Indian. Yet they want to be known, seen and thought of as hindu. They’re shrinking themselves, not celebrating their rich and many-splendoured parentage.

Sadly, this is typical of many of us. I suppose you could call it the folly of India. We need to become mongrels — yet when we are, all we want is to appear pedigreed. This is where Obama and America are so different. He’s half-black and half-white, his father was a muslim, his mother a christian, and at his first press conference he was proud to call himself a “mutt”. It’s the core of his appeal, which America readily embraced.

If Nisha had lived and we had children, they would be half-Hindu and half-Catholic and not for a moment would I have claimed otherwise. They would also have been half-Goan and half-Punjabi and so children of both north and south India. In that sense they’d have been far more ‘Indian’ than either she or I. They’d be like the Gandhis. Only the Gandhis are more so.

It’s time the Gandhis proclaimed the great advantage they have. If they do I, at least, will vote for them.

First Published: Mar 28, 2009 22:50 IST