Rahul stray­ing from Nehru’s path

Congress is drift­ing away from Nehru­vian thought to adopt the ag­gres­sive­ness of the Sangh Pari­var to at­tract votes on com­mu­nal lines.

The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis -

Is Rahul Gandhi try­ing to turn the clock back and undo what his great-grand­fa­ther, Jawa­har­lal Nehru es­poused in 1950? His pen­chant for vis­its to tem­ples and muths, which has been vis­i­ble since the Gu­jarat elec­tions in 2017 and Kar­nataka elec­tions ear­lier this year, has ac­cen­tu­ated dur­ing the cur­rent cam­paign in five states. Congress spokesper­sons have been em­pha­sis­ing his sta­tus as a “Shiv bhakt”, “ja­neu-dhari Brah­min” and cit­ing his go­tra to un­der­score that In­dian Na­tional Congress is a party of Hin­dus.

Post In­de­pen­dence, the much dis­cussed spat be­tween Jawa­har­lal Nehru and Sar­dar Val­labb­hai Pa­tel had an im­por­tant sideshow. It was the elec­tion of a prom­i­nent Al­la­habad Con­gress­man, Ra­jr­ishi Pu­rushot­tam Das Tan­don as the Congress pres­i­dent in the Septem­ber 1950 Nashik ses­sion of AICC. Tan­don was propped by Pa­tel and he de­feated Nehru’s can­di­date, Acharya J. B. Kri­palini. (Pa­tel also en­sured that Dr Ra­jen­dra Prasad be­came the first Pres­i­dent of In­dia, though he was not Nehru’s pre­ferred choice: Prasad-Nehru dif­fer­ences over Som­nath tem­ple were to fol­low in post-Pa­tel years.)

Tan­don and Nehru dif­fered on per­cep­tion. Nehru was not keen to em­brace the Pa­tel-Tan­don ap­proach of pro­ject­ing Congress as a “Hindu party”. He wanted sec­u­lar­ism, with equal re­spect for all re­li­gions to be the party’s tal­is­man. This, de­spite the fact that the na­tion was reel­ing un­der the fury of post-par­ti­tion com­mu­nal frenzy, as also the fact that while Mus­lim League was taken as the “Mus­lim party”, the Bri­tish had treated Congress as the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Hindu stand­point. The Hindu Ma­hasabha, founded in 1915, had at its helm Pan­dit Madan Mo­han Malviya and Lala La­j­pat Rai—Malviya served two terms as Congress pres­i­dent and the Lion of Pun­jab, as La­j­pat Rai was called, served one term as Congress pres­i­dent.

Nehru stood his ground. Pa­tel passed away in De­cem­ber of 1950 and by March 1951, Tan­don had to step down and make way for Nehru to hold both the posts of Prime Min­is­ter and Congress pres­i­dent (he held the post for three terms, mak­ing way for U.N. Dhe­bar at Avadi in 1955). The Nehru-Tan­don spat set the course for Congress, which Rahul Gandhi seems to be re­vis­it­ing and in the process per­haps pro­vid­ing grist to the BJP’s pro­pa­ganda mill.

Hin­duism does not have bap­tism—any­one pro­fess­ing the faith, even if not born into it, is free to claim to be a Hindu. The con­tro­versy over Rahul Gandhi’s ori­gins, there­fore, is ques­tion­able. But his party’s lat­est claim re­gard­ing his go­tra and him be­ing a “ja­neu-dhari” is not in sync with Congress tra­di­tion. It tends to in­sult both who are and who are not “ja­neud­hari”, and those who not be­ing Hindu are not sub­ject to the con­cept of pa­tri­ar­chal go­tra.

Hin­dus are pre­sumed to have as their an­ces­tors the “Sap­tr­ishis”—the seven sages: Vish­wami­tra, Jamdagni, Bharad­waj, Gau­tam, Atreya, Va­sishta, Kashyap. There are 47 sub- go­tras or “pravar” which take root in the seven go­tras. The Hindu Mar­riage Act 1956 lays down pro­hib­ited de­grees of re­la­tion­ship based on the go­tra sys­tem. Go­tra passes from fa­ther to son. Daugh­ters tran­scend from their parental go­tra to the go­tra of their hus­band on mar­riage. If a non-Hindu male mar­ries a Hindu lady then his fa­ther-in-law has the op­tion of adopt­ing ei­ther him or the off­spring of such mar­riage and go­tra can be passed on—as also the ben­e­fits of Hindu Suc­ces­sion Act and the in­come tax laws for un­di­vided Hindu fam­i­lies.

In case of Rahul Gandhi, his grand­fa­ther, Feroze Gandhi, had mar­ried Indira Nehru in Au­gust 1942 at a “Gand­hian Vedic cer­e­mony”, which as on that date did not have stand­ing in law (it is said a civil reg­is­tra­tion took place later, but this is not ver­i­fied in any ac­count). At his mother’s in­sis­tence, Feroze had worn dur­ing the cer­e­mony the Parsi holy thread, which was be­stowed upon him dur­ing his Navjote (ini­ti­a­tion) cer­e­mony as a Parsi.

Feroze Gandhi’s bi­og­ra­pher, the Swedish jour­nal­ist Ber­til Falk, in her well­re­searched tome, Feroze, The For­got­ten Gandhi has chron­i­cled the wed­ding as well as Feroze’s fu­neral in 1960. Ac­cord­ing to her, Feroze was cre­mated in Nigam­bodh Ghat and half of his ashes were im­mersed at the Sangam and the other half buried at the Parsi ceme­tery at Al­la­habad’s Ra­japur Road. An Oothaamna cer­e­mony as per Parsi cus­tom was held for Feroze Gandhi at Al­la­habad’s Ho­tel Fi­naro on 10 Septem­ber 1960. Falk de­scribes the fire­brand par­lia­men­tar­ian, who pi­o­neered scam bust­ing on Lok Sabha floor, as “non-re­li­gious”, who was nei­ther a de­voted Parsi nor had he con­verted to Hin­duism. “Feroze and Indira’s sons, ac­cord­ing to rules ob­served by the Par­sis, may have been Par­sis by birth but they were never Zoroas­tri­ans by choice,” Falk writes.

The con­tro­versy re­gard­ing Rahul’s go­tra iron­i­cally was stirred up on 26 Novem­ber (which is an­niver­sary of the adop­tion of In­dia’s Con­sti­tu­tion) when he vis­ited Pushkar af­ter pay­ing obei­sance at the Ajmer dar­gah. He was de­scribed as a “KaulDat­ta­treya”, the go­tra which Moti­lal Nehru had recorded when he went to Pushkar in 1924. Dat­ta­treya de­notes a sub- go­tra derived from Atreya Rishi. Jawa­har­lal Nehru in 1945 and 1964; Indira Gandhi in 1980; Sanjay Gandhi months be­fore his tragic death in April 1980, Ra­jiv Gandhi thrice dur­ing the decade of the 1980s and Rahul Gandhi him­self in his pre­vi­ous visit in 2013 had used this iden­tity while of­fer­ing prayers. No con­tro­versy was stirred.

The present brouhaha is the re­sult of Congress drift­ing away from Nehru­vian thought to adopt the ag­gres­sive­ness of the Sangh Pari­var to at­tract votes on com­mu­nal lines. In his at­tacks on Naren­dra Modi, Rahul Gandhi bor­rows the acerbic tac­tics of Ram­manohar Lo­hia and Raj Narain and his ap­proach to re­li­gios­ity seems to be skewed to­wards the view­point of Pu­rushot­tam Das Tan­don. If Congress is to find its feet and be rel­e­vant in the na­tion’s po­lit­i­cal dis­course, Rahul Gandhi will have to adopt the Nehru- Gandhi adage.

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