The Hua to Hua man returns to haunt Cong

While the latest in the list of Sam Pitroda is his racist comment about Indians, the Congress needs to stop and think of the kind of people in its set up who rule the roost. BY KUMKUM CHADHA

If the Congress has an enemy it is one within: this time around the goatee sporting, English speaking Sam Pitroda. 

One need not be apologetic about commenting on Pitroda’s looks: be it his goatee or all else. Because when it comes to Pitroda he is overliberal, rather uncharitable about commenting on the physical appearances of others. But a little later on that. 

First his origins. Popular as Sam Pitroda, Satyanarayan Gangaram Pitroda, spent his formative years in Gujarat much before Narendra Modi started ruling it. 

If one were to take away politics from his persona, Satyanarayan-turned-Sam, is a technocrat. 

For those who remember, he was handpicked by Rajiv Gandhi to spearhead digital telecommunications till the last village of the country. To his credit, he did that making it known that he was working at a token salary of a rupee per month. In fact it is thanks to Pitroda that STD booths came up in every nook and corner of the country and everything was just a dial away, so to speak. 

Heading half a dozen technology missions, Pitroda worked as advisor to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to build the Indian information industry. 

For those who credit Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the digital revolution in India perhaps forget that it was Rajiv Gandhi who kickstarted it. 

In fact Pitroda is on record to state that the Narendra Modi government “snatched away” the credit for the digital revolution started by Rajiv Gandhi: “Modi didn’t start digital India…it is a journey which started 25 years ago,” Pitroda had said some years ago. Pitroda later went on to work with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2004.   

Sift through his autobiography and read the pages wherein he speaks about his being in India when he saw people taking out a “funeral of dead phones”. This stirred him into wanting to fix the problem and approaching the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi through a friend. Instead he met Rajiv Gandhi to whom he sold the concept of bringing “telecom development to India in an Indian way”. The rest is history. 

Fast forward from Rajiv to Rahul Gandhi and Pitroda has been in and out. He has led the Party’s overseas wing, namely the Indian Overseas Congress, and arranged most of Congress scion’s visits abroad including the one at Berkeley, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. 

As Chairman, his job was to bolster the party’s global presence and enhance Gandhi’s image internationally. Whether he succeeded in that mission is a million dollar question.   

Dubbed as Rahul Gandhi’s mentor, the technocrat has, politically, done more harm than good. Not only has he landed Rahul Gandhi in a soup but embarrassed the Party more than once. And this is because he shoots off his mouth when he should not be opening it at all.  

For those who have watched Pitroda’s trajectory, also know that he and controversies go hand in hand. On that count, he is, to quote a media report, “repeat offender”, better still a “serial offender”. 

The latest in the list is his racist comment about Indians:  “We could” he said recently, “hold together the country as diverse as India, where people in the East look like Chinese, people in the  West look like Arabs, people on North look like, maybe, white and people in the South look like Africans”. 

It cannot get worse than this both nationally and electorally. As for the last, this was perhaps among the best things that could have happened as far as the BJP is concerned. 

But more than the electoral advantage one needs to look at the damage done to the psyche of the people, particularly those belonging to the north east region and the southern part of India.

In India, the domination of the north is well known. There is a smug superiority and an unspoken sense of entitlement that automatically puts all other regions throughout the country both on the defensive and an inherent disadvantage. When one talks of India getting a Prime Minister, it is presumed that the office would be occupied by someone from the north. 

There is, of course, an arithmetic at play which is about the maximum number of seats coming from the north but this alone cannot be the single factor to negate all claims from other regions, H.D. Deve Gowda being an exception. 

As for the north-east, they have borne the brunt of racism much more than others ever have. 

Many are victims in India’s capital city New Delhi and its neighbourhood, often referred to as chinky, because of their facial features. If some are ill-treated, often manhandled and threatened because of their origin, others are discriminated against. Many are viewed with suspicion simply “because they don’t look Indian enough”. 

It is therefore not without reason that Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma needed to look into the mirror. To quote him: “After I heard Sam Pitroda’s statement, I looked at myself in the mirror and I appear as a proud Assamese and Indian, not as a Chinese…”

 Equally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed anger at the “abuse” hurled at fellow Indians. In fact he went as far as saying that Congress did not support President Droupadi Murmu’s candidature because her “skin colour is dark”. 

Sure politics is being played out and no Party worth its salt would let go the opportunity that Congress has handed it on a platter. So one cannot grudge BJP the chance of playing this up and cashing in on it amid an intense and multiple-phased campaign. The Congress too has reacted by showing Pitroda the door. 

Pitroda has resigned from his post as Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress. 

But this is not Pitroda’s first. And if his track record is anything to go by, it may not be his last too.

A few weeks ago he had kicked up a storm when he advocated a US type inheritance tax in India. 

For the uninitiated, Inheritance Tax refers to a state levy on the assets an individual receives as part of an inheritance.  

Expectedly, the BJP went to town with Pitroda’s remarks even as the Congress went into damage control mode. 

While on insensitivity, there is more on Pitroda’s debit list. 

A few years ago when he was questioned about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, he dismissed the killings by saying: “hua to hua” or what happened, happened, so to speak. 

Then christened as the hua hua man, Pitroda needs to reinvent himself.  His recent remarks targeting Indians substantiate that he has learnt little. 

But it does not stop here. Another Congress leader steps up the tirade, none other than Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury: “We have Proto Australoids, Mongoloid class, Negrita class of people…it is true that some people are white, some dark,” he said.

The debate goes beyond Pitroda and Chowdhury or what they said and meant because this is not about people but mindsets and in Chowdhury’s case about defending the indefensible. It is also not about politics or elections. 

And therefore it is at this point that one needs to stop and ask oneself and more importantly the Congress: Is this done? Would a mere resignation undo the damage that an insensitive remark has caused? Would explanations suffice? And more importantly doesn’t this mindset put our country back by several years? 

The Congress needs to answer this and much more. It needs to stop and think of the kind of people in its set up who rule the roost. The fact that Pitroda is among Rahul’s advisors only makes this question more relevant than ever.