A photograph of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi kneeling down and tying the shoelaces of his mother Sonia Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, or ‘unite India march,’ in Karnataka was lapped up by his admirers and nonpartisans alike. A few days earlier, a picture of Mr. Gandhi addressing a gathering while drenched in a heavy downpour was seen as a sign of his defiance, while the shoelace episode was perceived as an act of his compassionate side. In my experience, both defiance and compassion are natural to him.
The shoelace act reminded me of an incident which I thought said something about the man. During the 2012 UP Assembly elections, Mr. Gandhi interacted with a few of us reporters who were trailing him in Banda, in the State’s Bundelkhand region. At a modest hotel or school -- I don’t remember exactly -- around 15 reporters shot questions at Mr. Gandhi, all of us sitting on plastic chairs in a crammed room. I happened to be sitting in the front, barely two or three feet away from him. In the midst of the interaction, my pen slipped out of my hand and fell, breaking into several pieces. Before I realised what was happening, Mr. Gandhi had collected the pieces, assembled them back and returned it to me. It was something that I would not expect from politicians. Politicians usually make a show of humility but are rarely so in practice; many wear their entitlement on their sleeves.
I must tell the story of a fallen phone too. Around the same period, a union minister whose name I shall not take, was chatting with me inside the Parliament building, which is now being converted into a museum. The gent was fiddling with his phone and it fell, splitting into two pieces. The minister was at a loss, and he tried to summon his staff who were standing at a distance and were distracted. As he kept waiting, I collected the pieces, assembled them and gave it to the minister.
Some years ago, I saw a particularly entitled leader, a third-generation politician at the national level, just extending his legs and gesturing to a lackey to get his footwear. The attendant, who was himself well turned out, and had a premium cigarette hanging from his lips, squatted on the floor and slipped the shoes on to the feet of the leader who continued to chat with his visitors.
So, Rahul Gandhi’s act of sitting on the road to tie the shoelaces of his mother, means something.
Meanwhile, the Congress is organising an election to find a new president for itself. Here’s why I believe Shashi Tharoor is the man the Congress needs but may never get. His is facing off with Mallikarjun Kharge, who is widely believed to be endorsed by the Gandhi family. The Hindu editorial argues that “Mr. Kharge or Mr. Tharoor, the truly popular should be able to win. Mr. Gandhi will only reinforce his authority by making it public that the family has no candidate.”
Indian divisions on the global stage
In recent editions of Political Line, we discussed the impact of domestic divisions on Indian diaspora in many countries. In the UK, the United States and Canada, there have been several incidents recently of ugly Indian battles showing up. Now, the government itself has done something comparable, it appears. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s speech at the United Nations made several references to the politics of the BJP regime in contrast with its predecessors, which, an expert points out, was out of line with traditional diplomatic conduct.
Rajaraja Chola – Hindu or Tamil?
Last week, PL had suggested that new archaeological excavations around sites associated with the Chola kingdom could strengthen Tamil nationalist arguments.
‘National Award-winning film-maker Vetrimaaran has said attempts to portray Rajaraja Chola as a Hindu king was an appropriation of Tamil culture, triggering a debate. Actor-politician Kamal Haasan supported the views of Mr. Vetrimaaran. Mr. Vetrimaaran made the comments at a felicitation function for the crew of Ponniyin Selvan I, a Mani Ratnam film based on the life of Rajaraja Chola, Mr. Haasan said “Hindu religion” was not there during the legendary Chola ruler’s time, and there was Vainavam, Saivam and Samanam. “It [Hindu religion] was the name given by the British. There were different religions. In the 8th century, Adi Sankara merged them. It is history,” he said. “To say Rajaraja is not a Hindu is akin to saying a Catholic is not a Christian,” according to Karan Singh.
In another cultural war of the week, a local unit of the Vishva Hindu Parishad has raised objections to the portrayal of Lord Ram, Lakshman and Ravana in the teaser of Adipurush, claiming that it “ridiculed Hindu society”.
Hindus and the rest
We are still debating who is a Hindu, but there is also a Hindu-versus-rest debate that continues to rage. The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has spoken yet again on the alleged dangers of population imbalance – insinuating that the Muslim population is growing and it might impact national integrity.
The point that needs to be underscored is that Muslim fertility is coming down, as is the case with all other communities; and the real population imbalance that the country should account for is not religious, but regional. Population in the Hindi regions continue to grow at rates higher than the national average while in the south, fertility rates are much lower. Mr. Bhagwat also called for an end to the caste and varna system.
Hindi and the Rest
States will have the freedom to choose the language of instruction in the democratic and decentralised process laid out in the National Education Policy, says Chamu Krishna Shastry the head of the high-powered Bharatiya Bhasha Samiti, dismissing the assumption of imposition of languages, in this exclusive.