12/16/2009, 00.00
INDIA
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How Christian is Sonia Gandhi?

by CT Nilesh
Hindu extremists accuse her of being a “Vatican spy,” but the chairperson of the ruling UPA party coalition is very reserved about her religion. Unlike other women who were widowed by terrorism, she has rejected vengeance against those who killed her husband Rajiv; like Gladys Staines who forgave Dara Singh, the extremist responsible for burning her husband and two children to death.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – To ask how Christian is a person is surely a provocative and impertinent question. First of all, because nobody has the right to judge another person and second, because there are hardly any criteria to measure the religiosity of a person. Nevertheless, recent and past events give us a chance to look into this question.

Sonia Maino, born and grown up in Italy, a Catholic country, met in England her future husband, Rajiv Gandhi, student and the first son of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India. While she was simply one of the daughters-in-law of the Prime Minister, nobody bothered to remark her origin and her religious connections. However, when Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister, after the assassination of the mother in1984, then the Sangh Parivar started worrying about the possible religious connections of Sonia and her influence on Indian affairs. They called her the spy of the Vatican and saw in her the beginning of the conversion of the whole India. This aggressiveness made her over-conscious of the implication of her Italian and Catholic origin and she never appeared practicing any Christian devotion in public or making any religious statement. Also at the state funeral of Mother Teresa, when Communion was offered to all the Catholics, she abstained.

On the contrary, LK Advani, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), freely proclaims his esteem of Jesus Christ. Invited in November for the Golden Jubilee of the Archdiocese of Delhi he said, “I revere Jesus Christ for his message of universal peace and brotherhood. I deeply value the contribution of our Christian brethren”

The situation of Sonia became more difficult after the assassination of her husband by the Tamil terrorist in 1991. Immediately after that, she refused to enter the political arena and left the government in the hand of Narasihma Rao, a Congress leader, which was followed by the government of opposition party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Then she accepted the chairmanship of the Congress Party and was able to bring it back to govern India in 2004.

Rajiv and Sonia got two children: Raul, that seems to be the natural political heir of the dynasty, he is still bachelor, and Priyanka who got married to a Protestant Christian and they have two children.

The recent events that can make us think happened on the anniversary of terror attack in Mumbai. Three days before the first anniversary, Kavita Karkare and Smita Salaskar, wives of the slain Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar respectively, met UPA (United Progressive Alliance, the coalition at the government) chairperson Sonia Gandhi at her residence. After the meeting, the two widows told the media that Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving captured terrorist, should be hanged.

“It was difficult to overlook the paradox of that meeting, wrote Monobina Gupta. Here were three widows – wives of two policemen and Sonia Gandhi herself- each had been a victim of unbridled violence fuelled by revenge. Each had suffered tragically. Karkare and Salaskar said the conversation was personal and they reiterated to Gandhi that ‘families of the victims and those of the martyrs wanted Kasab hanged’.

Few will forget how Sonia Gandhi, after losing her husband in a cold-blooded terrorist assassination, granted clemency to Nalini, the assassin. She had Nalini’s death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. Like Kasab, Nalini was the sole surviving conspirator of the five-member squad responsible for the Rajiv Gandhi’s murder. Compassion for Nalini’s five-year-old daughter had clearly taken precedence over Sonia’s personal longing for retributive justice.

Priyanka Gandhi was in her teens when her father was blown up. Seventeen years on, treading in her mother footsteps, she went to meet Nalini in the prison to “come to term with the violence haunting the entire family”. Later she said, “I don’t believe in anger, hatred and violence. And refuse to allow it to overpower my life.”

Another beautiful example of Christian forgiveness is the one of Gladys Staines who forgave Dara Singh, the man who torched to death her missionary husband Graham Staines and their two young sons while they were asleep in the jeep.

“Was it her religious faith or her gender that made her so brave?” asks Monobina Gupta. Gladys gave the answer on several occasions, saying that Christians can be recognized when, like Jesus on the cross, they forgive their tormentors.

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