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January 31, 1998


Saisuresh Sivaswamy

Tomorrow, there is nothing to stop Sonia from apologising in Bengal over the creation of Bangladesh!

An apology long after the act for which the contrition is being expressed is more of an afterthought, and the element of sincerity and remorse that it contains is always open to doubt.

And in politics as in courtship, the adage holds that it is better to be safe than sorry. The cliche goes that sorry does not make a dead man alive, but in politics what it does is breathe fresh life into issues that have long since become corpses. The anger against the offender, which has remained frozen in the meantime, now bursts to the surface with renewed vigour.

Sonia Gandhi, being new to the political rough and tumble, may have overlooked this simple fact in her haste to appear as the sole person acceptable to all sections of society. But it is surprising that the esteemed and learned coterie that is so busily tutoring her -- right from her one-liners to the colour of her costume to that cultivated Indira Gandhi image -- has ignored this.

There is nothing wrong with apologising for the demolition of the Babri Masjid -- that was an act for which the nation should have collectively apologised the day it happened. By apologising five years after it was pulled down, when the hurt in the community's psyche has been seared to its soul, and that too when your party is out of power and especially in the run-up to a most crucial election, the message has lost its importance.

Thankfully, Sonia Gandhi, by virtue of her birth in a foreign country, does not lug around the historical baggage that most of us are weighed down with, and could have a refreshingly different opinion than most of us. But an apology at this late hour, and in such a shoddy manner, will only alienate the community further from the Congress.

To expect the Mussalman to breathe easier merely because the Congress has conceded that its government at that time failed to protect his interests, both in Ayodhya as well as in Bombay and Surat, would be displaying the similar kind of callousness that has characterised the party's handling of this second largest grouping in the country.

What Sonia Gandhi has not taken into account is that a mere apology or denying a ticket to P V Narasimha Rao, who had the unfortunate role of the prime minister at the time, does not change anything at the ground level. The party that threw the community to the wolves once cannot invite them in again if the fence has not been mended thoroughly.

Likewise, the veiled apology for Operation Bluestar, and the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's murder when 'the ground shook after the fall of a big tree'.

The first one, first, since here was the strange sight of a party apologising for a decision taken by the Government of India.

If Sonia Gandhi thought this was as simple as her apology over the Babri Masjid, she is grossly mistaken, and her advisors are guilty of misleading her. The only similarity between the two acts is that in both cases the Sikh and Muslim communities were shattered.

But the Congress government in 1992 did not order the demolition of the Babri Masjid, it was not even an abettor to the act, it was only guilty of failing in its responsibility to the nation by not protecting the disputed structure. That the demolition had a positive fallout is not the point here.

In the case of the Golden Temple operation, the GoI, after weighing all the options before it, decided that there was no choice before the country but to send in the military to flush out the Punjabi terrorists who were waging a war against the nation from its sacred confines.

Thus, here we have a political parachutist who suddenly jumps into the fray without laying all her cards on the table, apologising to the country for all and sundry acts. Tomorrow, there is nothing to stop Sonia from apologising in Bengal over the creation of Bangladesh.

Does the Congress party also apologise for Operation Bluestar? Considering the alacrity with which it took its cue from Sonia Gandhi and incorporated an apology for the Babri Masjid's fate in its election manifesto, perhaps the right thing for it to do would be to issue separate manifestos every time Sonia says 'sorry' in her month-long campaign beginning February.

And while we are on the topic of apologies, here is a list of historical incidents that Sonia Gandhi and her minders could look at, since these are errors of omission and committed by a Congress government.

* While in Bombay, apologise to Muslims for unleashing the dogs of war on them in the riots five years ago, since the party has already said sorry for the act that triggered off this violence.

* Apologise to the party for emasculating it and making it so badly dependent on the leader's personal charisma that issues have faded into the background.

* Apologise to the women for keeping them backward, despite the fact that the nation's longest reign has been by a woman prime minister from the same party.

* Apologise for the web of lies that the party has spun out, like Garibi Hatao, in its hunt for power.

* Apologise for letting the Chinese walk all over us in 1962.

* Apologise for keeping the Kashmir pot boiling.

* Apologise for overturning a simple Supreme Court ruling granting peanuts as maintenance to a divorced Muslim woman, by a Constitutional amendment.

* Apologise for raking up the Ayodhya issue in the first place by allowing the shilanyas there.

* Apologise for keeping the nation shackled and corrupt in the name of socialism for so many years.

* Apologise for not fulfilling even one promise from its manifestos over the years.

* Apologise for perpetuating the dynastic culture in Indian politics.

* Apologise for the creation of the linguistic states which has kept Indians divided into Tamils and Bengalis, Biharis and Andhraites.

* Apologise for shoving Hindi down the throat of a reluctant nation.

* And finally, apologise for not heeding the Father of the Nation's advice and converting the Congress into a social movement, something that can be done even now.

Saisuresh Sivaswamy

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