IN­DIa’s ObaMa-stylE ‘RE­lI­gION POl­I­tICs’

The Sunday Guardian - - World -

In the United States of Amer­ica, not ex­actly a Third World coun­try, much me­dia at­ten­tion has been paid over the past decade as to the re­li­gion of Barack Obama. Con­spir­acy the­o­ries go that he was born a Mus­lim, as his Kenyan father be­longed to the same faith, while his mother was less than en­thu­si­as­tic about ad­her­ing to all the prac­tices of the Chris­tian faith into which she was born. In­ter­est­ingly, Pres­i­dent Obama’s mother, Ann Dun­ham, was an ide­al­is­tic child of the 1960s who trav­elled across the globe seek­ing to im­prove lives through vol­un­tary ef­fort, a call­ing that was in­her­ited by her only child. After di­vorc­ing Barack Obama Se­nior, Ann Dun­ham mar­ried an In­done­sian ci­ti­zen, who too sub­scribed to the Mus­lim faith, but very soon sent her son by the first hus­band off to Honolulu to be brought up by her par­ents, who lav­ished care and at­ten­tion on their pre­co­cious grand­child and ap­peared to be un­tainted by any trace of racial prej­u­dice. In­ter­est­ingly, the clearly “of­fi­cial” Wikipedia en­try re­lat­ing to Barack Obama (and which in­cludes his sig­na­ture) car­ries no men­tion of either of his par­ents, con­fin­ing it­self to nam­ing wife Michelle and chil­dren Malia and Sasha. Of course, Obama’s father was al­most an em­bar­rass­ment to the fam­ily, and there is only men­tion of a sin­gle visit of his to meet his son in Honolulu, a visit which by all ac­counts seemed to be strained. Obama’s grand­par­ents were prac­tic­ing Chris­tians, and what­ever may have been his ini­tial re­li­gious iden­tity, it was ob­vi­ous that from his Hawaii days, Barack Obama was Chris­tian, if he ever em­braced a faith at all dur­ing those care­free days. How­ever, this did not stop a cam­paign against him, mainly by right-wing Repub­li­cans an­gered by the pos­si­bil­ity of his emerg­ing as the 44th Pres­i­dent of the United States. The anti-Obama groups spread the story that Obama was not Chris­tian, but Mus­lim, al­though the im­pact of such a cam­paign on the votes re­ceived by him was un­clear. To this day, such a cam­paign con­tin­ues, with Pres­i­dent Trump serv­ing as its prin­ci­pal pil­lar. Trump sees his legacy as the rolling back of the Obama legacy, and the “birther” con­tro­versy is an­other as­pect of this cam­paign by the cur­rent US Pres­i­dent to down­grade and to den­i­grate his pre­de­ces­sor.

In­dia is be­com­ing closer to the US in its demo­cratic im­pulses, and it is there­fore no sur­prise that a con­tro­versy has sprung up about the faith to which Rahul Gandhi be­longs. The 47-year-old son of Ra­jiv Gandhi and his wife So­nia once de­clared his faith as “In­dia”. While In­dia as a coun­try is known and re­spected across the globe, “In­dia” as a re­li­gion re­mains ob­scure. Hence, many would like a bit more trans­parency about his re­li­gion, es­pe­cially in view of the fact that his mother prac­tises the Catholic faith, which is among the great faiths of the world, and his sis­ter Priyanka has mar­ried into a Chris­tian fam­ily. Given that more than 80% of the pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try is Hindu, it is not sur­pris­ing that Rahul Gandhi has been en­er­getic in vis­it­ing tem­ple after tem­ple dur­ing elec­tion cy­cles, al­though his en­thu­si­asm for such vis­its seems to be greatly di­min­ished dur­ing the pe­ri­ods when there are no elec­tions on the im­me­di­ate hori­zon. His ap­par­ent sign­ing of a reg­is­ter at the Som­nath tem­ple in Gu­jarat as a non-Hindu, this in the com­pany of long­time Nehru fam­ily con­fi­dant Ahmed Pa­tel (who has never hid­den his own faith), has ig­nited a firestorm of at­ten­tion in view of sev­eral hints and sug­ges­tions by some of his more en­thu­si­as­tic ad­mir­ers that Rahul is not merely a Hindu, but a “high caste Hindu”, what­ever that term means in a world where caste by birth is re­garded as ar­chaic. The BJP has asked Rahul Gandhi to de­clare his faith in some­what more pre­cise terms than that he be­longs to the “In­dia” faith (as in­deed does ev­ery other ci­ti­zen of this an­cient coun­try). Thus far, this has not hap­pened, and the si­lence on the part of an in­di­vid­ual who could (if the BJP makes enough mis­takes by 2019) be­come the next Prime Min­is­ter of the coun­try within a cou­ple of years needs to be bro­ken. The peo­ple of In­dia are lib­eral and will not in the least grudge Rahul Gandhi suc­cess in pol­i­tics, even if he were Chris­tian. In­deed, our Chris­tian com­mu­nity has dis­tin­guished it­self in fields such as ed­u­ca­tion and health­care, and over­all has reached a far higher level of av­er­age progress than much big­ger com­mu­ni­ties have. If Rahul Gandhi is in­deed Chris­tian as some in­sin­u­ate he is, that is not a mat­ter to be hid­den but to be cel­e­brated. Man­mo­han Singh was wel­comed as PM de­spite be­ing a non-Hindu, and should it tran­spire that the in­com­ing chief of the Congress party is not Hindu, that would not af­fect his stand­ing at all, pro­vided he is open and trans­par­ent about his faith. The time has come for Rahul Gandhi to set all doubts to rest by openly re­veal­ing his faith, whether this be Hindu or Chris­tian or per­haps Zoroas­trian, the an­cient faith of his pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, in­trepid jour­nal­ist and par­lia­men­tar­ian Feroze Gandhi.

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