TARUN J TEJPAL- Editor, Tehelka Magazine
DEAR MRS SONIA GANDHI, We all know the cliché that India moves on faith. We love our gods, and it is at their feet that we place all our successes and failures. It is in this department that those who oppose you — and perhaps even some of those who support you — will assert that you have an unfair advantage. Through marriage and masquerade you have acquired all the gods Indian politicians have, while also possessing one you brought along from your faraway home all those aeons ago.
Since we do not oppose you, we are happy that you have an extra god. As you know, India has so many gods only because it has so many problems. (Yes, there are men on the far left and far right who think god is the problem, to be banished or to be rescued — but let these men not detain us, since they’ve failed to detain the electorate.) So we are glad that you have an extra god. One more is always handy. Our gods are playful, multi-faced, philosophical. Often their moralities are slippery to grasp, sheathed as they are in the complexities of karma and dharma, moksha and maya. The one you bring along, the extra one, is more cut and dried. Quite clear about right and wrong, good and bad, sin and virtue, charity and compassion. We — who do not oppose you — welcome that. Amid the material excesses born of our religious abstractions, a little bit of clarity is not a bad thing.
Since we are agreed that you have one god more than the rest of us, it necessarily follows that your responsibilities must be more. It is an easy catechism: privilege and obligation. Of course it is not easily followed. Our playful gods tend to often muddle it up. But your extra one is quite clear on how this must run. In this case, we’d be quite grateful if you heed him, not for your own sake, but that of a few hundred million others.
To begin with, this means that you must banish the thought that your labours are done. Without a doubt you have been stellar in marshalling an army whose officers did not even know which way the battle broke, and whose chief skill lay in swiftly putting the knife into each other. For long years you did this in the face of great personal abuse (inspired perhaps by your extra god). It is not pleasant for a General to be told she does not know how to hold a gun or speak the language of the troops. But you understood, intuitively, that cheap insults can so easily keep the good and the great from the good and the great tasks. You understood that wars, finally, are won not by the size of bullet and the decibel of bugle but by the strength of heart. By simply staying the course, over 13 years, you have unexpectedly changed the battle-lines.
So your toil has been worthy. Your ragged army of 1996 is a renewed one in 2009. In the process you have so cleverly — and beautifully — played out two key precepts of your extra god. Thou shalt not covet, the last of the ten commandments, so artfully spun as an act of renunciation that it sucked out the wind from the sails of your opponents. And Mathew 5:5, which is also Manmohan Singh 2004: blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. And both have been cleansing of the public in unanticipated ways.
Yet let me assert it without any ambiguity. Manmohan 2009 needs you as much as Manmohan 2004. He may be the scythe that clears the weeds, but you are still the arm that wields the scythe. To slice cleanly, the arm and scythe must swing in tandem.
Since I am convinced that your work is far from over, and since I am on Mathew, let me remind you of the exhortation in 10:7. “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” As one must always do with divine scripture, I could spell out the contemporary burden of every phrase. But that would be fatuous. More than those of us who write of these things, you know best what it is in this calamitous nation to heal the sick and to cast out devils.
An open letter to the unlikely woman whose tenacity in staying the course has changed the contours of Indian politics
Even so — as humble epistle writers must — let me say my piece. Power brings with it a surrounding mist; great power a billowing fog. You may not be blinded by it since you have always lived with great power, but all around you, your partymen will now be tempted to explode in arrogance. They may tend to forget they have merely won a battle. The war, or may I say wars, still rage around us. The bigots — who would divide us — are still at the gates, nursing their wounds, renewing their munitions. They are far from a spent force. They have taken a fourth of our dominions. Be in no doubt that they will storm the walls again, and again. What will serve your legions well then is not hauteur, but what brought them here in the first place — humility, and the steel that is born of it. Across the land we cast our vote against swagger: let it be known, we will bear our ordained abjections but refuse to be hit by misplaced arrogance.
AS I said, the wars are many. Of civilisational ideas, of inhuman deprivations, of lack and want and misery and dying children. In my city — which is also yours, which is the supercilious capital of this limitless nation — at every traffic light, six and seven and eight-year-olds, their skins lacerated, their limbs twisted, rub our car windows for a throwaway rupee. Shining India, booming India, superpower India — these epithets are not just jokes, they are obscenities, when we cannot feed our children, or clothe them, or send them to school. I know you know this: as of now 46 percent of our children below five years of age suffer from malnutrition, with all the physical, mental and emotional impairment that comes from it. A man far greater than you, far greater than any we have known, gave us a talisman which you would do well to thrust down the throat of every person you are now anointing with power. “Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him.”
It is a curiosity of the hour that while the beacon is the future, the guiding light is still firmly the past. There is nothing that can better unveil to us the path that we must tread than the humane luminosity of the founding fathers.
In this regard, if I may say so, you are well rid of the vanity and bluster of the Left, but you might do well to hold on to some of their concerns. As you should also of the dalit queen and the Yadav overlords. They stand at the head of hapless peoples, even if they do nothing to represent them. The causes are great but the leaders are little. Reject the men; embrace the mission. The task of the reparation of centuries must proceed apace.
Inevitably then, ma’am, all this brings me to the rich. Money is a good thing. And it is no secret that we all love the rich — yes, all your partymen too. But will you please ensure that they do not make of their love a public thing. In India, all elected leaders must speak only for the poor. The rich have their money — and the media — to talk for them. Those who have the opportunity to create wealth — much or more — leave them alone to do so, and place no obstacle in their path. But instruct your worthies to focus on those who have no hope, and bring unto them a sliver.
You are well rid of the vanity of the Left, but you might do well to hold on to some of their concerns
I must stop. It is ungracious of me to deign to sermonise. That, too, at a moment of your high triumph. Let me then offer some praise. No doubt with the help of your extra god, you have done a fine job of bringing up your son. He has humility, decorum, diligence, and he takes the long and inclusive view. We do not like the idea of dynasty, but we abhor the idea of divisiveness more. In an ideal world we would do away with everything feudal and undemocratic, but for the moment let us concentrate on getting rid of the engines of hatred.
Mercifully, your boy seems more in touch with the soul of India than those who try and barter deities for votes. A man from your party once told me, disparagingly, “Sure, he is wellmeaning. He wants to help old ladies cross the street. It’s no good.” I wonder what he thinks now. Young men who help old ladies cross the street can also grow up to steer nations across rocky roads.
Can I leave you with one last quote (though it’s likely you already know it)? A man far greater than you, far greater than any we have known, once said, “To be in good moral condition requires at least as much training as to be in good physical condition.” This man was called Jawahar, the jewel. His books line your room. As freely as ye have received, freely should you give them on to your newly exuberant flock, and that of your son. The jewel’s words will make their morality robust. After all, it is still on this man’s plinth that we build our dreams.
And yes, as I bid you speed and strength, with the extra god by your side, may I make a final plea. You have given us of yourself, and of your son. Now will you kindly also give unto us your luminous daughter.