05/24/2004, 00.00
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Multi-religious government turns new page in India's history

by Nirmala Carvalho

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The wounded psyche of the Sikhs is now starting to heal and ironically it is Sonia Gandhi who is playing the pivotal role of catalyst. The Congress Party has expiated its sins of 1984 with Sikh Dr. Manmohan Singh being sworn in as the 13th Prime Minister of India on the evening of May 22. All the Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) across the country were lit up, devotees of the mystical religion lit fire crackers and processed in the streets, dancing with joy and pride that one of their own community, victimized 20 years ago during the reign of the very same Congress Party, has been elevated with the Party to  take the country's highest post. It marks the first time a non-Hindu will lead the country. Scores of Sikhs in colorful turbans visited the Golden Temple, to offer prayers for Singh's long and successful tenure. The ghosts of the past have been laid to rest. A healing touch has been given for the 1984 riots and "Operation Blue Star".

For the Sikhs, the Golden Temple is their 'Mecca'. Under Congress rule in the 1980's, with Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister, 'Operation Blue Star' led to the desecration of the Golden Temple, at a time when Sikh militancy was rampant and  the loyalty of the Sikhs were questioned.  Following the assassination of Mrs Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, 3,000  Sikh believers were victimized in the aftermath of mass hysteria. Scores were dragged from their homes and brutally murdered. Thousands were tortured. Many hundreds of Sikhs shaved their heads and discarded their turbans, the proud mark of their identity.

India is a pluralistic country with many religions, cultures, languages and racial groups. But this notion of Indian reality has been under great threat. The Hindutva forces increasingly have been seeking to homogenize Indian culture towards an upper caste. But Tribals and the Dalits (India's untouchables) reject this superimposed identity. They struggle for their own survival, for recognition of their human dignity and for their own cultural identity. Dalits, Tribals and other minority communities toil for basic life necessities, and for much of history have been oppressed and treated with contempt. A large number have converted to Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam and Christianity. More than sixty percent of Indian Christians today are from these lower levels of Indian society.

The Council of 68 ministers sworn-in by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance recaptures the pluralistic and secular fabric of India, as members of the Dalit and Schedule Tribe were sworn into Parliament. Through this ministerial allocation, the Congress showed its ability to  woo the vote bank of the lower level castes as friendly allies. However, the Congress do not appear to have yet broken the 'Gender Barrier': very few women were sworn into the cabinet. But with a Sikh Prime Minister and a Muslim President, the predominantly Hindu India is sending out a symbolic message to the world of its Pan-Indian presence and secular inclusiveness.

The smooth transition of power ended over four months of vigourous electoral battle, with the whole political class seen under one roof at the Presidential House, Ashoka Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan. In a visual motion of his statesmanship, Dr. Manmohan Singh rushed forward to greet his predecessor BJP leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The former Prime Minister reciprocated, giving his best wishes to the new Government.

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