Salman Rushdie on elections (WaPo)

Salman Rushdie has an op-ed in today's Washington Post on the elections. It's for registered users only, so I'll summarize and quote extensively. Rushdie argues that the results of this election resemble Indira Gandhi's defeat in 1977:

The fall of the Indian government is a huge political shock that strikingly echoes the only comparable electoral upset, the defeat of Indira Gandhi in 1977. Then as now, just about the entire commentariat was convinced that the incumbent would win; then as now, the opposition was widely written off; then as now, India's voters left the politicians and media with egg on their faces. Both elections are high points in the history of Indian democracy. An ornery electorate that doesn't do what it's supposed to do is a fine and cheering thing.

He deepens the argument in some obvious ways -- comparing Indira's abuse of power in the Emergency (1975-77) to the BJP's role in Gujurat. But then he goes in a slightly surprising direction, linking the urbanism of Nehru (in the 1940s and 50s) with that of today's BJP, as against the rural emphasis of Mahatma Gandhi and the left in today's politics:

The oldest Indian rivalries of all have resurfaced in this election, as they also did in 1977. Then as now, much of the urban bourgeoisie voted for the government, while the impoverished Indian masses, in particular the rural poor, mostly voted against it. The Indian battle for centrality in the debate about the country's future has always been, to some degree, a battle between the city and the village. It is between, on the one hand, the urbanized, industrialized India favored by both the socialist-inclined Jawaharlal Nehru and the free-market architects of "India Shining," the new India in which a highly successful capitalist class has transformed the heights of the economy; and, on the other hand, the agricultural, homespun India beloved of Mahatma Gandhi, the immense countryside India where three-quarters of the population still lives and which has not benefited in the slightest from the recent economic boom.

I think his point on Sonia Gandhi's foreignness particularly salient. Many of us abroad have fought (as Rushdie himself fought, in the Thatcher days) to be recognized as full members of the societies in which we live. I fight hard to be recognized as an American. It's my passport that defines nationality, not blood, complexion, or where I choose to pray. I expect that people of foreign descent in India would be treated in the same way:

I have two immediate wishes for the new era. The first is that the debates about "foreignness" can be laid to rest. Those of us who are part of the Indian diaspora, and who have fought for years to have Indians recognized as full citizens of the societies in which we have settled and in which our children have been born and raised, have found the attack on the Italian origins of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress Party's leader and widow of the slain prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, to be highly unpleasant. Even more unpleasant were the BJP's suggestions that her children, the children of Rajiv Gandhi, were also somehow aliens. You can't have it both ways. If Indians outside India are to be seen as "belonging" to their new homelands, then those who make India their home, as Sonia Gandhi has done for 40 years or so, must be given the same respect.

Great point.