CONSTITUTIONALLY, politically, judicially and, of course, ethically, what prompted Varun Gandhi to make the communal statements he has been accused of making, inviting only condemnation from his own party and others? It is a shame that an apparently educated person, of polished political pedigree, should be unaware even of his constitutional obligations, duties and limitations. The judicial authority to decide punishment for anyone, irrespective of whether the other person (or group) is guilty or not, does not rest on a candidate for Parliament. Nor does such a person have the right to decide the nature of the punishment. If the candidate does entertain genuine grievances against any person or group, it is his/her constitutional duty to approach the legal authority for action. No citizen can be allowed to take law into his/her own hands, a lesson Varun Gandhi has probably learnt only now.
Given his assertion that he is an Indian and a Hindu, with “no ill-feelings” towards any person or group, Varun Gandhi should be all the more aware of his national and religious responsibilities.
He has no authority whatsoever to speak on behalf of rest of the Indian community or, for that matter, Hindu citizens. He has the right individually to entertain whatever perceptions he may have about others. But he would do well to keep these views to himself. In any case, he has no right to abuse and defame others during the course of his political campaign, as he has been accused of doing.
Moreover, the comments attributed to him constitute an attempt to incite communal passions to attract voters from one section of the community.
This is suggestive, surprising as it may seem, of a completed unfamiliarity with the model code of conduct that candidates and parties are expected to follow to ensure a peaceful, orderly election. But his offence is worse, because it amounts not just to an abuse of the code, but the very values and principles he is expected to follow.
After all, the individual entering the electoral fray to become a legislator is also expected to be a model for others aspiring to the same stature. Indian politics, it is true, has no pretensions to a clean culture. But with the younger generation, including Varun Gandhi, selecting a political career, it was assumed that they would play a major role in cleaning up the mess made by the elders. Sadly, a totally different message has been conveyed in this instance.
Varun Gandhi’s mission seems guided by a desire to abuse his religious card to the stage of creating a communal frenzy that will lead to a polarisation of votes along religious lines. Fortunately, the reactions suggest that he has failed miserably.
Ironically, the political novice does not seem aware of even the background of his surname — Gandhi. His statement: “I am a Gandhi,” coming after being accused of saying how he would punish the minority community — by cutting off their hands and heads — suggests he is ignorant of what a true Gandhi, a follower of the principles lived up to by the Mahatma, would practise. Varun has the surname Gandhi, which comes from his grandfather Feroze Gandhi (late premier Indira Gandhi’s husband), who was a Parsee. This point has been deliberately made so that today’s premier political family — carrying the name Gandhi — is not viewed as relatives of Mahatma, as apparently all members of the politically divided family want voters to think.
The alacrity with which Varun Gandhi has been countered by practically all, except the Shiv Sena, with the Election Commission directing action against him, is a matter of relief for concerned Indians upholding the country’s secular credentials, irrespective of their religious beliefs. Indian secularism, imperfect though it is, has so far held the country together, by making different religious communities aware of the need to respect the beliefs of other groups.
The secular consensus has increasingly been shaken in recent years, but not yet uprooted, with the likes of Varun Gandhi’s success, built on the communal card, falling apart more suddenly than perhaps he had even visualised. If Varun Gandhi’s comments were deliberately made to arouse communal frenzy, he seems to have no clue to the political temperament of today’s voter, who is too clever to be taken for a ride by such rhetoric.
Varun Gandhi has made a fool of himself by trying his hand at the old tainted political card, which even veterans in his own party are wary of using in a political climate that is so delicately balanced that even a remark by someone so unremarkable could affect the verdict.