India’s Obama-style ‘Religion Politics’

India’s Obama-style ‘Religion Politics’

By THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN | 2 December, 2017

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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