As the country struggles with another gruesome rape—this time, of a 5-year-old girl—Dilip D’Souza asks what it will take to stem the violence.
No, I don't think there is an end to these godawful rapes anywhere in sight. (Monday April 22 headlines: “Three more minors raped in Delhi, protests snowball” and “Brutality in MP village, 4-yr-old raped.”) No, I don't think the protests against the police and politicians will change anything. Because I think the real problem is simultaneously wider, deeper, and infinitely more intractable than the police can ever hope to address, even if they were so inclined.
Intractable, because the real problem is us. My fellow Indians and I and our attitudes toward the people who surround us. It's the way we consider our fellow citizens. It's the attitudes that permit a grown man to believe he can rape a 5-year-old and insert objects into her vagina. It's what allows cops to imagine an acceptable response to this outrage is to offer the family 2,000 rupees—less than 40 American dollars—to go away, along with the reminder that they should “be grateful your daughter is alive.” It’s what governs the thinking of judges who, in deciding rape cases, advise the woman to marry the man.
It is those attitudes that worry me. Almost more than these awful rapes, they make me wonder where this country has reached and where it is going.
Last week in Jaipur, a father and his young son sat on the side of a busy road. Beside them lay his wife and daughter, dying after an accident knocked them off their scooter. Even in the grainy CCTV footage, he is visibly distraught, pleading for help. Yet over a period of 10 minutes, nobody stopped to help him. Not one person. Cars and trucks drove past, even swerving left in that characteristic way of Indian traffic faced with an obstacle, going way out of their way to evade him. What’s in the minds of people who see such a scene through their windscreen and then turn away to gauge how far they can swerve?
That incident set off echoes in my mind from a dozen years ago. Late one monsoon night, heading home after a late flight, I came across a man lying on the side of the highway, unconscious. He was the driver of a rickshaw, hit a few seconds earlier by a passing cab and thrown on the road. A few of us took him to a hospital nearby, where the doctors tried hard to revive him. In vain, though. Hours later, early in the morning, he died without having recovered consciousness. While we who had taken him there struggled to comprehend this, one of the nurses there suddenly popped up in front of me. “See?” he said, loud in the morning stillness. “He’s dead!” And here he pointed directly at me. “You just wasted your time, bringing him here! You should have left him on the road!” What’s in the mind of someone who believes that taking an accident victim to hospital is a waste of time?
The attitudes I am talking about are embodied in these two incidents, and in any of plenty more that take place every day. I remember them when my 79-year-old mother has to cross the road to reach home and cars actually speed up to prevent her crossing before they pass and she has often to leap nimbly out of the way. Or when the lawyer for actor Shiney Ahuja had this to say in court about the woman who accused Ahuja of raping her: “She belongs to a lower caste, which is aggressive by nature, and she wouldn’t have submitted herself so easily. They are known for being aggressive.”
If you live in a building in Mumbai, there’s a chance it will collapse from shoddy construction or be knocked down by the government for being illegal. Dilip D’Souza on the perils of finding a safe roof in his home city.
In the Mumbai suburb of Santacruz on Wednesday April 3, 43 homes were destroyed. These were apparently illegal.
In the rather more distant Mumbai suburb of Mumbra on Thursday April 4, an entire residential building, seven floors tall, was destroyed. The building was apparently illegal.
Indian rescue workers look for survivors as excavators clear the debris at the site of a building collapse in Thane, on the outskirts of Mumbai on April 5. (Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty)
The parallels, such as they are, end there. The Wednesday destruction was performed by the government. These were 43 slum homes, supposedly built on Railways and Defence Ministry land. The Defence Ministry wanted the land, the Railways promised to return it, 43 families were suddenly homeless. They hardly get any sympathy, because their homes were “illegal.” (Plenty of us even refer to the people who live in such homes as illegal.)
The Thursday destruction was courtesy of that meaningless euphemism "an act of god." Not really, but bear with me. This was a building under construction. It collapsed, killing 75 people and leaving dozens injured. They get plenty of sympathy, deservedly so, but this apartment block they called home was illegal too.
Think of these two episodes as a microcosm of the state of housing in this great city.
When Dilip D’Souza took a group of kids on a school trip, many of them fell mysteriously and aggressively ill, but it seems it was all in their minds. He investigates this phenomenon—and compares it to examples in America.
At lunch, N is slumped on the table, her food untouched, her face slack, completely unresponsive. From across the room, I watch her friends, some of them also ill, unsuccessfully coaxing her to eat. After a while, I walk over.
File photo of Indian schoolchildren, August 2012 (Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty, file)
“She’s not eating,” one says. “She can’t even sit straight!” Sure enough, when I try to speak to her, her head lolls back and her body crumples against mine, to the point that if I step back she will fall off her stool. Nothing registers. This is N’s second episode like this in two days, and this time the resident doctor is seriously worried. Better take her to the emergency room, he advises.
I pick her up—13 years old, it’s like picking up a largish puppy—and carry her to a waiting car. We rattle along, about 15 miles to a large hospital. Pick-up-and-carry time again, then I have to fill a form at the counter. No more than a couple of minutes later, a stocky doctor emerges from the emergency room and crooks his finger at me.
“Tell me,” he begins. “Did someone force her to come on this trip?”
The city might have a new name, but King George's colonial legacy is still everywhere. By Dilip D'Souza.
It’s just a nondescript shed. But if there’s a more telling descriptor of my city’s essence, of a certain schizophrenia that runs in the veins of some of us who call this place home, I have yet to find it. Tucked on a quiet lane between Elphinstone College and the National Gallery of Modern Art, the shed is smack in the middle of the buzzing downtown precinct where most tourists in Bombay—yes, I call the city Bombay—mill about. Yet it’s a good bet most of them haven’t even heard of it.
Manzoor Ansari, an Indian Muslim flute seller, plays one of his wares to attract buyers. (Arko Datta/Reuters)
If you go, put your eye to a hole that’s at about chest level. Let your vision adjust to the darkness. You’ll notice a button. A coat. A uniform. A man in that uniform. Behind him, a second man in uniform, wearing one of those colonial-era pith hats. Two larger-than-life statues are housed in this unassuming little shed, dusty and cobwebbed.
Just a few steps away is the sprawling museum complex with its great white British-made dome. Nearby are the Rajabai Clock Tower and Bombay University’s pristine convocation hall, with sun streaming through its delicate stained-glass windows. Just beyond, you’ll find the High Court, all high ceilings, lofty turrets, and musty staircases. And thronging everywhere, nearly any time of day, are crowds of officegoers, lawyers, supplicants, vendors, college students, sugar-cane-juice sellers, and tourists.
Somewhere in all this, two statues in a shed. What on earth, you think.
These are statues of the British monarchs George V and Edward VIII that were once on public display, with several others, in this precinct. In the mid-1960s, vexed political activists toppled them from their pedestals, no doubt thinking, our British rulers left two decades ago—why are these stone likenesses still around? Most of the statues were moved to—I kid you not—the zoo. But Kings George and Edward were deposited in this shed. Can’t have these tributes to colonial rule be seen, you know. What will that do to us impressionable Indians? They’ve languished there for nearly a half century, a reminder of a certain past—but only to those who know.
If a sometime bus driver turned rapist from the slums of Delhi dies in jail, does India rejoice? Dilip D’Souza on the nation’s lack of euphoria around the mysterious suicide.
Leave aside the death-penalty critics, possibly his family too. Is there anyone in India who is both aware of the ghastly gang rape in Delhi in December, and who didn’t want its main accused (yes, and each of his partners in rape) to pay with his life?
Delhi police personnel assemble in the neighborhood of the home of Ram Singh, who was found hanged in his cell in high-security Tihar prison in New Delhi, March 11, 2013. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty)
I’d say, no. “Try the guy, sure, but make sure he gets the death penalty; then hang him, preferably in public”: arguably, that was the sum total of the sentiment about Ram Singh since he was first arrested for that crime.
And now the man is indeed dead. He was found hanging in his jail cell early on Monday morning, apparently a suicide. Now this death is, after all, what plenty of us Indians wanted. So is there an outpouring of euphoria about his passing?
Not surprisingly, no.
But the questions, first. Because there are far too many to wish away.
A surrendered militant was executed in India last week, but serious doubts remain about his guilt. Dilip D’Souza on the outrageous judgment by the courts—and why it reflects how India has gone soft on terrorism.
My government decides to execute a man who was condemned to death some years ago. My government has a fuzzy impression that perhaps his family should be informed. So my government writes a letter to them—they live in a town in Kashmir—seals it and hands it to its own postal service to deliver.
Mohammed Afzal Guru, second right, is escorted to court in New Delhi, India, Dec. 17, 2002. He was hung in an Indian prison Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 for a conviction in the 2001 attack on India's Parliament, which killed 14 people, including five attackers. (Aman Sharma/AP)
Wonder of wonders, it is delivered. Just over 48 hours after he is executed.
My newspaper carried comments, made the day the letter reached the family, from the Chief Postmaster General in Kashmir, one John Samuel, and they make eye-opening reading. The letter was dispatched from Delhi by "speed post"—in which you pay much more money for not much faster delivery times—and reached the main post office in Srinagar, capital of the state of Kashmir, the afternoon of February 9, which was already some hours after he was hanged that morning. Samuel is quoted: "The speed post for Srinagar is delivered that very day, but for other districts, it goes the next day. The next day was a Sunday and there was a curfew. But when we found out what the letter was, we made special arrangements to get it delivered"—right here, perhaps you think Samuel will say "the same day"?—"this [Monday] morning."
A callous and utterly botched effort, but even if just a sidelight to this execution, it fits the execution like a favorite glove.
Afzal Guru, as he was popularly known, was the surviving principal accused in the audacious attack on India's Parliament on December 13, 2001. But he wasn't part of the actual attack. That day, five men drove a car into the Parliament complex and started firing. All were killed in the ensuing gun battle, along with a gardener and eight security staffers. Afzal was arrested just two days later and charged with conspiring in the attack. He was tried, found guilty in 2005, and sentenced to die.
India is earning a reputation for overzealous film censorship.
Another day, another movie protested/banned/censored/take your pick. India is the world’s largest producer of feature films, their stars some of our biggest icons, their songs instant hits that are sung by youth all over the country. Yet India is also home to an inordinate number of people who take offense at scenes in films and want them cut. So vocal are they—clearly more vocal than free-speech advocates—and often so ready to threaten violence, that they usually get their way.
India has a long history of censoring or banning films—from Jesus Christ Superstar in the 1970s to today. (Praful Gangurde/Hindustan Times via Getty)
The most recent case is the Tamil film Vishwaroopam (Image of the World), apparently some kind of thriller about terrorism (no, I have not seen it). Some Muslim groups have protested, saying it has portrayed Muslims poorly and thus “hurt their sentiments.”
That last, it has always seemed to me, is an empty statement heard far too often and taken far too seriously. Instead of standing up to this bullying, the southern state of Tamil Nadu decided to ban the film, citing apprehension of law-and-order problems. Days later, with its makers frantic at losing out at the box office—Tamil Nadu, naturally, is the biggest market for a Tamil film—the filmmakers agreed to sit across a table with these Muslim groups. What emerged was a series of seven cuts to be made in the print.
Chalk up one more blow struck at the shaky edifice of free expression in India.
Speaking of which, I have personal experience of what such offense does to ordinary folks’ understanding of free expression. Some months ago, the film was Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal (hard to translate—literally Wonder Fun Lottery, though the Vatican uses the title Laugh, Be Happy), apparently some kind of potboiler in which a Catholic priest is shown to be a lottery addict (no, I have not seen it). This time it was Christian groups who were offended, their sentiments hurt by such “blasphemy.” Even the Vatican took note. Of course there were cuts made.
As India seethes with anger over the brutal raping of women, the country’s leading political family has delivered only weak platitudes. Dilip D’Souza on how the Gandhis have tarnished their legacy and political future.
Dec. 29, 2012: the day the Delhi gang-rape victim died, nearly two weeks after she was attacked. The same day, too, that Rahul Gandhi "broke his silence on the ghastly incident": "My heart goes out … We as a nation must reflect … deep-felt condolences … thoughts and prayers with the family."
Rahul Gandhi following the first day of the Parliament Monsoon, Aug. 8, 2012. (Sonu Mehta, Hindustan Times via Getty)
Nothing wrong with those words. But consider that those two weeks had seen a groundswell of public outrage building and eventually exploding on Delhi's streets, an upsurge that had echoes all over the country and would cascade into the New Year. There was frustration at the failure of police to make our streets safe for women, resentment of public attitudes that make such crimes conceivable, anger at the working of justice that makes punishment for rape a shamefully rare event, and much more.
Into this maelstrom of sorrow and rage stepped Rahul Gandhi. With two weeks to think about how to react, he had found a treasure trove of platitudes. Given a chance to meet his fellow citizens, to listen to and understand their fears, he spurned it for a prepared statement filled with high-sounding but meaningless sentiment.
When a nation feels, viscerally, the iron rod that was used to brutalize the woman, when we are nearly consumed with apoplexy at this horrific assault, what use are "reflection" and "prayers"?
If there's a surer sign of how detached Gandhi now is from his raison d’être, Indian politics, I don't know what it is.
A horrific rape is, sadly, unlikely to end the everyday outrages against women.
There is no aspect of this sad, sordid episode that does not grate. Not even what happened after her death. She was gang-raped on a Delhi bus on Dec. 16, and died in Singapore nearly two weeks later. One report speaks of the police “rushing” the family “to get the cremation done before sunrise” and that they “asked the victim’s neighbors to stay away from her house.” Two thousand policemen were in place to add teeth to these requests. By themselves, these might, just might, have been seen as reasonable measures. But in a two-week spell during which nearly every government move has been graceless and ham-handed, this was just more of the same. The prime minister’s reading of a prepared statement on the attack ended with a “Theek hai?” (“That OK?”) to technicians, promptly and widely ridiculed as evidence of his glaring disconnect from popular sentiment. The police apparently saw fit to brutalize people, women included, protesting this ghastly crime—thereby only compounding the impression of their contempt for ordinary citizens. Some higher-up made the decision to fly the young woman to Singapore for treatment, setting off more angry speculation: Are our hospitals not good enough? Was this more political than medical? Should the criminals now be flown to Saudi Arabia for punishment? And the home minister probably took the wooden spoon for his stupid—no other word fits—equation of protesters to Maoists. And now her cremation was handled clumsily? Tell us something new, please.
But if the ham-handedness was bad, the details of what happened to the woman were monstrous. As a reminder of what can happen to women who simply want to go out on the town, they bear repeating in every gruesome detail. She and a male friend caught an evening film at a South Delhi mall. Wanting to head home afterward, they climbed into a bus that stopped for them. According to media reports, six men on the bus, including a minor, began taunting and then assaulting them with an iron rod. They beat the male friend into submission, then took the woman to the back of the bus. There, they beat her. They bit her. They raped her. They shoved the rod into her. They did that last with such venomous force that they pulled out her intestines—one of the men even noticed a “ropelike object” spilling from her body. They carried on this appalling assault for nearly an hour, as the bus reportedly went on a joyride across the city, careening without pause through at least a few police blockades designed to detect and prevent terror. At a highway intersection near the airport, perhaps finally tiring of their blood sport, they reportedly threw the couple—unconscious, stripped of their belongings and clothes—into the freezing Delhi night. That’s where a passerby eventually found them and called the police.
You might think this was an exceptionally revolting incident. One of Malcolm Gladwell’s “outliers,” if you will. Yet if that’s true—and I’m not sure it is—there’s also this simpler truth: for many Indian women, molestation and worse are everyday realities, the stuff of daily news reports. It is no exaggeration to say that. It is no exaggeration to know that blindfolded you could stick a pin in a map of India and likely stumble on a recent report of a rape there. (For example, as I write this my symbolic pin pierced Barmer, Rajasthan, where three men gang-raped a 13-year-old 10 days after the Delhi crime.) Put it all together and the magnitude of this menace is every bit as frightening as what happened on that bus. And this is why the ultimate lesson this episode holds for us Indians is about what makes too many men think they can get away with perpetrating these horrors on women. Beyond anger and grief, this is about our attitudes toward women. About the urgent need to rethink them. Much as recent American massacres are stimulating debates on gun control, this Indian abomination must set off this process of introspection. Or she will have died not just horribly, but entirely in vain.
A school shooting in America, a horrific rape on a New Delhi bus. Different incidents but both are deep problems that plague each country and seem unsolvable. Dilip D’Souza asks why.
In the US, it’s a horrific massacre with guns. In India, it’s a nightmarish rape and beating of a young couple in a bus. In my years in these two countries I’ve called home, no crimes cause as great a surge of outrage, followed by anguished introspection, as ones like these do.
Women participate in a candlelight vigil to show solidarity with a rape victim at India Gate in New Delhi December 21, 2012. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters, via Landov)
There’s outrage, but there’s no end to these atrocities. There may never be. In a two-week stretch last July, we saw an Indian assault on a woman and an American gun massacre. In a two-day stretch last week, we saw … an American gun massacre and an Indian assault on a woman.
Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and now Sandy Hook: each triggers a blizzard of hand-wringing over gun control and that unresolvable debate about whether guns kill people or people do. Columnists suffer conniptions trying to identify the failings in American society that drive men to these atrocities. Overseas, we non-Americans shake our heads in wonder: “Random, meaningless acts of mass killing are rare elsewhere in the world and yet so common in the Us”, writes Ranjona Bannerjee in a recent column.
Rare, newsworthy, and yet you can bet other events will soon crowd the fallout of Sandy Hook off the headlines—though only until the next outburst of inexplicable slaughter. And if such shootings are what Americans agonize over far too often, we Indians find regular hysteria after our women are attacked.
This has happened in Bangalore, Mumbai, Mangalore, Guwahati … and just days ago, it happened like this in New Delhi: Men in a bus offer a ride to a young couple. They then drive around the city, including through police security obstacles. Clearly unmindful of any possible repercussions, the men rape and beat the woman with an iron rod. Eventually they throw the couple, stripped and unconscious, on the side of the road not far from Delhi’s airport. They have so badly beaten her that her intestines—her intestines, no less—have had to be removed and she is struggling for life in hospital.
Every year on Dec. 6, India is divided between those who are ashamed and those who are proud of 1992 massacres that tore the country apart. Dilip D’Souza on the complicity of the recently deceased Bal Thackeray in this terrible day.
On Twitter on Dec. 6, some folks were trying hard to make the tag #ShauryaDiwas trend. “Day of Valor” is what that means in Hindi, and it is a reference to Dec. 6, 1992, when a vast crowd tore down a mosque in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya. I have no doubt that the tag did trend, because there are a whole lot of Indians who actually feel it was an act of bravery. They are proud that it happened. Proud at their redeemed “self-respect.” Proud of the destruction. Proud of that crowd.
Politician Bal Thackeray speaks to the press in 2007. (Rajanish Kakade / Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Example: the late Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray told the press at the time, “If my [party activists] had brought down the mosque, then I could only be proud of them.” Example: various leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had led the political movement around the mosque, were in Ayodhya that day, watching its destruction. Several, including a future chief minister of the state of Rajasthan, Vijayaraje Scindia, “were laughing in great delight.”
Such are the folks who think of this day as one of valor and pride.
Like with a lot of things, though, there are plenty of Indians who feel no pride at all about Dec. 6. Apart from the emptiness of the suggestion that Indian self-esteem is to be found on the rubble of a mosque, that one crazed act brought weeks and months of killing across the country. About 1,000 died in Mumbai, and tens of thousands more fled the city. Arguably, the destruction of the mosque set ghastly wheels turning that eventually brought on our heads the massacres in Gujarat in 2002, deadly bomb attacks in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, and elsewhere over the last decade and more, and the horror of the November 2008 attacks.
A roll call of thousands of ordinary Indians—my fellow ordinary Indians—slaughtered is not quite what I want, or expect, from a day of Indian valor.
Hated and mocked in much of the world, the Nazi leader has developed a strange following among schoolchildren and readers of ‘Mein Kampf’ in India. Dilip D’Souza on how political leader Bal Thackeray helped inspire Indians to admire Hitler and despise Gandhi.
My wife teaches French to tenth-grade students at a private school here in Mumbai. During one recent class, she asked these mostly upper-middle-class kids to complete the sentence “J'admire …” with the name of the historical figure they most admired.
Adolf Hitler speaks in 1936. (AP Photo)
To say she was disturbed by the results would be to understate her reaction. Of 25 students in the class, 9 picked Adolf Hitler, making him easily the highest vote-getter in this particular exercise; a certain Mohandas Gandhi was the choice of precisely one student. Discussing the idea of courage with other students once, my wife was startled by the contempt they had for Gandhi. “He was a coward!” they said. And as far back as 2002, the Times of India reported a survey that found that 17 percent of students in elite Indian colleges “favored Adolf Hitler as the kind of leader India ought to have.”
In a place where Gandhi becomes a coward, perhaps Hitler becomes a hero.
Still, why Hitler? “He was a fantastic orator,” said the 10th-grade kids. “He loved his country; he was a great patriot. He gave back to Germany a sense of pride they had lost after the Treaty of Versailles,” they said.
"And what about the millions he murdered?” asked my wife. “Oh, yes, that was bad,” said the kids. “But you know what, some of them were traitors.”
As Bal Thackeray, founder of one of India’s most violent and aggressive political groups, lies on his death bed, Mumbai is silent in fear of what’s to come from the grief over his passing. Dilip D’Souza on how one man came to rule a great city—and why their agenda rings hollow.
In August 2001, a politician in Thane, the sprawling city northeast of Mumbai, died in the Singhania hospital there. His name was Anand Dighe. He must have been some kind of popular figure in Thane, because when the city got news of his death, a crowd of his supporters "spontaneously" expressed the "grief."
What form did this expression take?
Well, they looted and burned a garment store nearby. They siphoned out the fuel from several parked ambulances, then overturned them and set them on fire, along with 30 cars and three buses. They beat up several journalists, though two particularly intrepid ones escaped the thrashing by feigning death. (This is true.) As if all this wasn’t nauseating enough, they attacked the hospital and went after its nurses. No, it’s worse still. They went after its patients. One, suffering from renal failure, had been in the ICU bed next to Dighe. He had to rouse himself and run for his life through the hospital, hiding with the terrified nurses behind locked doors. “I had given up hope,” his son told the press later. “I thought I would lose my father.”
He survived, but what was lost instead was the hospital. Severely damaged by this outpouring of “grief,” it closed down for good some weeks later.
Imagine the city of Baltimore losing a major hospital because a politician died there.
Many of us Mumbai residents have Dighe on our minds today, Friday
What happened—or didn’t—when Dilip D’Souza went to take his driving test for a new license terrified him. He writes about India’s terrible road safety record—and why he fears for his life.
In crisp khakis, the cop stands at the head of a raggedy line of about 20 of us aspirants. Each one reaches him, he scribbles something on their form, he waves them on to one of two cars beyond him. The line moves quickly, so I'm standing beside him before I've had time to ponder exactly what he's doing, and then I get my answer.
He asks my name, checks it, and writes "passed" on my form, and that's it. I'm stepping past him, waiting for the car. "That one", says someone else, and I walk over to the open driver's door, conscious that the cop's paying me no mind. He's already focused on writing "passed" on the guy behind me’s form.
In the passenger seat, there's a man, buttoned-down shirt and furrowed brow. He hisses, "Don't touch that!" as I reach to move the seat belt so I can sit down. So I sit, and he hisses, "Don't touch that!" as I put my hands on the steering wheel. So I leave the wheel alone and he hisses, "Don't touch that!" as I reach for the gear shift. So I rest my hands in my lap and he hisses, "Don't touch those!" as my feet move, of their own volition, as any driver's feet would, move towards the pedals.
So I sit there doing exactly nothing, and the car, apparently of its own volition though he's really operating it from his seat with his own set of pedals, moves forward about 10 yards, then backward about 10 yards, and then he tells me, "OK, you can go. Your test is over."
Thus have I passed my driving test to get myself a new Maharashtra (the state of which Mumbai is the capital) driver's license. I swear I am not making this up.
Also, and for probably obvious reasons, this "test" puts accidents in my mind.
New accusations from rivals claim travel expenses that defy even simple math. Of all the murky dealings tied to the political heiress, why the fuss over numbers so illogical?
The astonishing thing is, there’s so much to hold the lady accountable for. What did she do to punish party colleagues who led mobs in massacring Sikhs after Indira Gandhi was assassinated? Will her party ever get over its obsession with her family—or is it just the name? Or are we forever to be blighted with dynasty? When do we get the truth about the Bofors gun scam of the 1980s, which named the then–prime minister, her husband?
Sonia Gandhi waves to supporters at a campaign rally Wednesday in Rajkot, India, ahead of the Gujarat state elections. (AP Photo)
There’s more, too, about Sonia Gandhi, chief of India’s Congress party. Yet come election time, her political opponents prefer to whack quite different horses. Like now, when the state of Gujarat is gearing up to vote in December. Its chief minister had Gandhi in his sights at an election rally the other day. Over three years, pronounced Narendra Modi, her trips to foreign lands for medical reasons cost taxpayers 18.8 billion rupees ($360 million at current exchange rates).
This stunning figure immediately got Modi’s fans atwitter. Something about Gandhi gets under these folks’ thin skins. Now here was a juicy cocktail: a vast sum of money, apparently public money; Gandhi goes abroad for treatment—and what’s that about anyway? India not good enough for Her Highness?
It was like throwing a pack of ravenous dogs a side of raw meat.
It was also another entry in the continuing effort to damn Gandhi for her “foreign origins,” in pursuit of which any foreign connection at all helps no end. When she ran for Parliament in 2004, her political opponents, Modi’s own Bharatiya Janata Party most of all, couldn’t stop talking about her birth in Italy. That she had since become an Indian citizen made no difference. If Italy and India went to war, they asked with straight faces, where would the lady’s loyalties lie? Prime Minister Vajpayee himself couldn’t resist the temptation. Many people, he said in his election stump speeches, were concerned about the national-security implications of Gandhi winning her seat and becoming prime minister herself.
Dilip D'Souza, author of "Roadrunner: An Indian Quest in America" and "The Curious Case of Binayak Sen," is the winner of the Newsweek/Daily Beast Award for South Asia Commentary. He lives in Bombay with his wife, two children, and two cats. Follow his Twitter account @DeathEndsFun.
Mallika Dutt on the global culture change needed to prevent crimes like the recent rapes of two small girls in India.
Laid aside for decades, Tolkien’s abandoned poem about King Arthur is finally released. Biographer John Garth reads the epic.