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An Open Letter to Rahul Gandhi, the Next Congress President

VVP Sharma @vvemuri

Updated: December 27, 2017, 11:38 AM IST
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An Open Letter to Rahul Gandhi, the Next Congress President
File photo of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)
Dear Rahul Gandhi,

Your party, the Indian National Congress, respects tradition. Family tradition. Your mother wants you to succeed her as party president. So you shall. You are confident no other Congress worker will contest against you. It is but a formal wait for the declaration of the result. Such is the strength of inner-party democracy.

You will be the fifth Nehru-Gandhi to step into the shoes of party president.

Your forefathers from your grandfather’s side were from Kashmir — the Nehrus. Your party website tells me that they had settled in Delhi since the beginning of the 18th century. The website informs that some ancestors of yours worked for the colonial rulers.

Motilal Nehru’s grandfather, Lakshmi Narayan, “became the first Vakil of the East India Company at the Mughal Court of Delhi”. Motilal’s father, Gangadhar, “was a police officer in Delhi in 1857, when it was engulfed by the Mutiny”.

The website recalls that “when the British troops shelled their way into the town, Gangadhar fled with his wife Jeorani and four children to Agra where he died four years later”. Motilal was born in 1861, three months after his father’s death.

Thereafter, the family moved to Allahabad. They took to law, their ancestral profession, so to say. But they also turned nationalists, unlike their immediate ancestors. Motilal was Congress president at two crucial junctures — in 1919 after Jallianwala Bagh and in 1928 when the country was divided over the Dominion Status olive branch of the British.

You never saw Motilal. You never saw Jawaharlal either. You, of course, saw your grandmother Indira Gandhi who was the second person from your family to become Prime Minister and party president. You were born in 1970 and may have the blurred memories of hectic activities at home when you were five years old.

You were in your teens when your father Rajiv succeeded his mother to both posts. The third from your family. After his death in 1991, none from your family presided over the fortunes of the Congress till 1998 when your mother, Sonia, became president. The fourth member.

In all, between these four members, they held the post of Congress president for 44 years. The party, founded in 1885, has a history of over 130 years. But then, statistics don’t tell the real story, isn’t it?

Let’s leave out your great-great-grandfather, Motilal, from the rest of this meandering tale. He headed the party long before Independence. But I am including you in this, even though you are yet to be president. That makes it a happy four-some, comprising two parent-child pairs. Jawaharlal and Indira on the one hand, Rajiv and you on the other. What a twist of irony between the pairs?

In the first case, Kamala, the wife and mother, did not live long and the daughter apprenticed under the father for decades. In the second case, Sonia, the wife and mother, became your mentor after your father died quite young.

Your grandmother learnt politics and the art of governance from her father. Her mother, Kamala, was present till her untimely death in 1936, but the father-daughter bond is what is important. I am told Kamala took part in the freedom movement in her own way. But it was Indira’s father who tutored her after she entered her teens. They were rarely together, with him mostly in jail or touring the country when out of it. The education was through his letters to her.

I have read a compilation of those letters written mostly in 1928. You must have read them too, I suppose. The letters shaped Indira. No exaggeration.

Take this for example: “If we are to be India’s soldiers we have to respect India’s honour, and that honour is a sacred trust. It is no easy matter to decide what is right and what is not. One little test I shall ask you to apply whenever you are in doubt. Never do anything in secret or anything that you would wish to hide. For the desire to hide anything means that you are afraid, and fear is a bad thing and unworthy of you. Be brave, and all the rest follows.”

“In history we read of great periods in the life of nations, of great men and women. Do you remember how fascinated you were when you first read the story of Jeanne d’Arc, and how your ambition was to be something like her. Ordinary men and are not usually heroic. They think of their bread and butter, of their children, of their household worries and the like. But a time comes when a whole people become interested in a great cause. Then history helps even simple, ordinary men and women to become heroes.”

The father had clarity of thought when it came to religion and he passed it on to his daughter: “What has been this quest of man, and whither does he journey? For thousands of years men have tried to answer these questions. Religion and philosophy and science have all considered them, and given many answers. I shall not trouble you with these answers, for the sufficient reason that I do not know most of them. But, in the main, religion has attempted to give a complete and dogmatic answer, and has often cared little for the mind, but has sought to enforce obedience to its decisions in various ways.”

“Science gives a doubting and hesitating reply, for it is of the nature of science not to dogmatize, but to experiment and reason and rely on the mind of man. I need hardly tell you that my preferences are all for science and the methods of science.”

He shunned orthodoxy and ritualism that makes religion look bad. That is what he told Indira in another letter: “In the last letter I told you how the early men were afraid of everything and imagined that every misfortune was caused by angry and jealous gods. They saw these imaginary gods everywhere — in the jungle, in the mountain, in the river, in the clouds.”

“Their idea of god was not a find and good person but of a very irritable person who was always losing his temper. And as they were afraid of his anger they were always trying to bribe him by giving him something, chiefly food. So religion first came as fear, and anything is done because of fear is bad.”

“Religion, as you know, tells us many beautiful things. When you grow up you will read about the religions of the world and of the good things and the bad things that have been done in their name. It is interesting to notice here, however, how the idea of religion began. Later, we shall see how it grew. But however much it may have grown, we see even today that people fight and break each other’s heads in the name of religion. And for many people it is still something to be afraid of.”

I will give you some more examples of what Jawaharlal wrote to Indira. They sure were mere words penned on paper, but if reflect on her actions when she grew up and became Prime Minister and party president, one can see how these letters influenced her, both positively and negatively.

On caste, he wrote: “The Aryans being very proud of themselves were afraid of getting mixed up with the other inhabitants of India. So they made laws and rules to prevent this mixture, so that Aryans could not marry the others. Long afterwards this developed into the caste system, as it is called today. Now of course it has become perfectly ridiculous. Some people are afraid of touching others or eating with others. Fortunately this getting less and less now.”

About hyperbole nationalism, he remarked: “In every country people imagine that they are the best and the cleverest and the others are not as good as they are. The Englishman thinks that he and his country are the best; the Frenchman is very proud of France and everything French; the Germans and Italians think no end of their countries; and many Indians imagine that India is in many ways the greatest country in the world. This is all conceit. Everybody wants to think well of himself and his country. But really there is no person who has not got some good in him and some bad.”

Here he shares his concern for India: “We are of course most concerned with our own country, India. Unhappily it is in a bad way today and most of our people are very poor and miserable. They have no pleasure in their lives. We have to find out how we can make them happier. We have to see what is good in our ways and customs and try to keep it, and whatever is bad we have to throw away. If we find anything good in other countries we should certainly take it.”

You have had a difficult childhood. You witnessed the violent deaths of your grandmother and your father. For the last 19 years, you may have been educated and guided by your mother in the ways of politics. As and when you become president, the apprenticeship will end, though not the guidance and advice.

Did you also read the letters of your great-great-grandfather? You would then have realized that the situation in India at the level of the mind-set and customs political and cultural has not changed much since he wrote about religion, nationalism and development all those decades ago. Your family members will have to partly answer why because they were at the helm of affairs for over half the 70 years India has been independent. As and when you become president the questions will be directed at you.

Take your own example. Look at what Jawaharlal wrote to your grandmother about religion. And look at you making it a point of including temple visits as part of your electioneering itinerary. Get the point?

Yours truly,
An Aam Indian
First Published: December 5, 2017, 1:49 PM IST

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