Opinion Op Ed 03 Dec 2017 State of play: Losin ...
Neena Gopal is Resident Editor, Deccan Chronicle, Bengaluru

State of play: Losing My Religion

Published Dec 3, 2017, 6:55 am IST
Updated Dec 3, 2017, 7:16 am IST
The NextGen Gandhis that Rahul, Priyanka and Varun – part Sikh – reflect the polyglot, melting pot that is Indian society today.
Rahul Gandhi
 Rahul Gandhi

Going by the argument that Rahul Gandhi ‘signed’ in as a Hindu as well as ‘M’   - a Muslim – in two separate attendance registers at the Somnath temple (why were there two ??)  and the brouhaha thereafter, that the Congress leader’s religion and faith were unclear as he couldn’t be both a Hindu and a Muslim, I am deeply confused. 

Does it matter? Does it really matter whether the man professes to one faith or another? Isn’t your nationality more important than the sub-text of religion and caste?  


We are Indians first, are we not - and then Hindus and Muslims, Christian and Buddhist, Jew and Jain… Or is this the new India, where all that matters is which deity we deify, which higher power we bow our heads to? Man. Mammon.

And here’s the thing, Rahul Gandhi’s ancestry and bloodlines criss-cross not just this country, but two continents. When your great-grandfather is a Kashmiri Pandit, your grandfather, a Parsi, and your mother, an Italian Catholic, you have a foot in three faiths, not one. Pushed to the wall, he’s now crumbled and chosen to go public and say he’s a Shiv bhakt, with a Congress party spokesman jumping in to say Rahul is a practising Hindu, a thread wearing Brahmin! A Janeu-dhara Brahmin! 


Ahem! You can choose your religion, but can you choose your caste? There are two asides I’d like to make. First off, we’ll have to wait for the man to bare his chest to see if the spokesperson, got that right!  Second, Kashmiri Pandits appaently only sport the thread when they marry or conduct a ritual. And - I could be completely wrong - the thread can be worn by a Brahmin, a Kshatriya and a Vaishnava.

Either way, courtesy our misogynist, deeply patriarchal societies, Feroze Gandhi didn’t lose his religion because he married outside his community. That only applies to Parsi women. What it did, was make Feroze and Indira’s ill-fated, star-crossed progeny, Rajiv and Sanjay, Parsis by birth;  If, they had chosen to embrace it. By all accounts, given the annual family treks to the Amarnath and Vaishnodevi temples and images of all their last rites, they clearly professed to the Hindu faith. Who can forget Indira Gandhi’s resident Rasputin, Dhirendra Brahmachari who dominated her last years?   


The NextGen Gandhis that Rahul, Priyanka and Varun – part Sikh – reflect the polyglot, melting pot that is Indian society today. With the rapid urbanization of our smaller towns and the mass migration of our young, away from their traditional social milieu, as they seek employment in the bigger towns and cities, both here and across the world, our identities, as defined in our parents and grandparents’ times, rooted in our ancestral villages, by caste and religion, seem to matter less and less. Surely, it’s who we are, who we’ve become as individuals, what we do, and how successful we are at doing what we do in our chosen careers and vocations, that define us. 


For years, my Dad who made Nescafe a household name in the country had Nestle appended to his name. And he revelled in it. My better half divested himself of his family name as so many of his contemporaries did, so that he would not be defined by his origins. 

That’s the new world -  the rapidly shrinking world where, even if you live and work halfway across the world, you can connect to friends and family and business and work associates. A world without borders. That’s the India one wants to be a part of. 

Rahul’s advisers need a rap on their knuckles. His cardinal error was to get sucked into a debate such as this. What he should have asked himself before the spokesperson trotted out the specious ‘janeu’ argument  is this -  is the voter in Gujarat, not going to vote for the Congress if the face of the opposition party is not a practising Hindu?  


Clearly,  the party went ballistic because the entry said he was a Muslim, and the carefully crafted temple-hopping ace card, that had been borrowed, with great insouciance from the BJP electoral lexicon, was as good as dead. This was the BJP’s only way to stop the ever cheekier Gandhi from winning brownie points. In tripping Rahul up in the way that they did, they showed the temple hopping for what it is - a blatant ploy to appease the Hindu, fracture that vote and hope the crumbs that come their way will be enough to change the Gujarat story. The Muslim will vote for the Congress anyway, they say


The glee in the Congress camp at putting the BJP on the back foot has however gone; getting their mojo back may be tough. What Rahul should have done is put his Gujarat house in order first. It’s a black spot in the Congress book, ever since Madhavsinh Solanki’s time when the powerful old guard cut Gujarati Congress leaders to size rather than counter the BJP, a far superior force when it comes to mind-games and getting under the skin of the opposition. 

Except… nothing is as it seems. Look at our home state of Karnataka, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, one is told is playing the soft Hindutva card. An insider tells me that a post-poll survey shows that Himachal isn’t a done deal for the BJP either, that they should have gone with J.P.Nadda and replaced all 26 sitting BJP MLAs, all unpopular. 


Will Rahul Gandhi ‘losing his religion’ be a turning point? 

Leaving you with the lines from the 1991 R.E.M. hit that strangely says it all….

 “That’s me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I've said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing…”

Location: India, Karnataka, Bengaluru