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The Rediff Interview/K R Gowri and K R Bhaskaran

'Narayanan has done nothing for the dalits. Why should he?'

Ever since Kocheril Raman Narayanan emerged as the consensus candidate for the Presidency, a caste and religion-based controversy has been brewing up in Uzhavoor, his native village in Kerala. A section of people, led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, have questioned Narayanan's 'dalit credentials'. They feel that though Narayanan was born a dalit, he is a "dalit brahmin" today.

Narayanan's critics say he is a "pro-Christian" leader because his wife, Usha, is a Christian and one of his sisters, Bhargavi, is married to a Christian.

K R Narayanan's brother But in Narayanan's modest home at Uzhavoor, his sister K R Gowri and brother K R Bhaskaran are unmoved by these accusations. "We escaped caste oppression all these years. The VHP is now trying to tarnish our family's image. But Narayanan, and we ourselves, are above such petty allegations," says 80-year-old Gowri, a homeopath.

In an exclusive interview to Rediff On The NeT's George Iype at their Uzhavoor home, Gowri and Bhaskaran defend their brother and emphasise that he holds the country's top post not because of his caste, but because of his merit. Excerpts from the conversation:

Do you think Narayanan became an all-party consensus candidate for the President's post because he is a dalit?

Gowri: The political parties' motives for supporting him might have been our low-caste status. But neither our brother nor we have ever craved for power or position because we were born in the dalit Paravan community. Our brother never used his dalit status to plead for ambassadorial or ministerial posts before Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi. Instead, they invited him to serve the country because they knew he was a committed person, a honest and simple human being. Today, he is the country's first citizen because of his merit alone.

Some people say Narayanan is not fit to be the country's President because he has not done anything for the dalits...

Bhaskaran: True. All these years, Narayanan has done nothing for the dalits. Why should he? He has never claimed to be the leader of the dalits. He has never claimed government benefits or reservations meant for dalits. We were born in a poor family. We are still poor. But our father was a physician who treated high-caste Namboodiris and, therefore, had a social standing. In the 1930s, when we were in our childhood, we never felt oppressed by our caste.

Narayanan has reached the pinnacle of success because he is very hard working and sincere. I always told him he would become a great person. All these years, my conscience has been telling me he is meant for bigger things in life. That has finally come true. I can rest in peace now.

Gowri: Narayanan is not a servant of the dalits. But can you name a single dalit leader who is a committed servant of the low-caste communities? All these politicians, who pretend to be dalit leaders, live in big bungalows in Delhi. They profess high principles, but never practise justice and truth. Our brother should be a role model for all these leaders. Unlike them, he has never amassed wealth. He is still a poor man because he is sincere and committed towards his country.

The VHP says Narayanan is a "pro-Christian" leader...

Gowri: How can the VHP decide Narayan's caste and religious status? Has the Government of India given the VHP the authority to investigate our religious status? Narayanan is not pro-Christian, pro-Hindu or pro-Muslim. He is a leader whose belief is not chained to any particular religion. What is important is his vision for India and his conviction in life. Those are the reasons behind his success.

Why have you hung Jesus Christ's photograph along with Narayanan's on this wall?

Gowri: What is wrong in that? I hung it there because I admire Jesus Christ and his great principles. Keeping Christ's photograph home does not mean we are followers of the Church. I am not a fanatic. I have faith in god. That god can be Jesus Christ or Lord Shiva. Whenever I go to a church, temple or mosque, I put whatever little money I have in the donation boxes. I read the Bible, the Ramayan, the Bhagwad Gita and the Koran. Unlike the VHP, I do not discriminate between religions.

Bhaskaran: Religion is a means for people's betterment. Hence, discriminating against people on religious and caste grounds is the first step toward social inequality. In India, politicians use religion as a bait to get votes. They swear by truth and justice, but cheat the system. The politicians in India are like the CPWD employees who come in droves to whitewash our house whenever Naryanan comes here. Our politicians are perpetually whitewashing the people.

But your younger sister Bhargavi is married to a Christian...

Bhaskaran: What's wrong with that? She was a central government employee and, while in Delhi, she fell in love with the man who is now her husband and asked for permission to marry him. All of us -- including Narayanan -- approved of the match and blessed the marriage. In such cases, religion does not matter, what matters is commitment and love.

Why did both of you avoid marriage?

Gowri: I did not feel like getting married. I have been practising homeopathy for many years and have found complete fulfilment in serving people in my own little way.

Bhaskaran: That is a personal choice. I decided not to get married because I wanted to lead a quiet, unassuming and peaceful life in my village. I am happy with my decision.

Have you ever experienced social discrimination because you are dalits? K R Narayanan's sister

Gowri: We have never experienced social injustice from the upper caste. I think we escaped this discrimination because our father was a respected physician. But we were always poor. Often, we did not have the money to buy clothes or pay the school's fees. Narayanan was able to pursue his degree education because some Christian priests, who supported poor students, helped him. I think our early struggles in life made Narayanan an upright leader.

Has Narayanan been helping you financially?

Bhaskaran: We have never felt the need to ask any money from him because we are self-sufficient in our own little way. I am getting pension from the company I worked for in London. My sister gets enough money from her homeopathic practice. There is no need for Narayanan to help us financially. He is like one of us. He is not rich.

What was your reaction to T N Seshan's decision to contest against Narayanan?

Gowri: Seshan is an arrogant man. You cannot compare him with our Narayanan. Both are extreme ends of a pole. Narayanan is known for his simplicity and Seshan for his arrogance. It is sad that Seshan begged for support from the Shiv Sena leadership which has been denigrating south Indians all these years.

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