Catch-22, na ghar ka, na ghat ka!

My friend Avinash Pande, a secretary with the All India Congress Committee, was a worried man, Wednesday night. He had just read my column (Anandan on Wednesday: Merit alone is not enough) and he was concerned that I had said that Raj Thackeray might make a song and dance of it if the Congress nominates a North Indian to the Rajya Sabha.

“Am I not a North Indian?” he asked.

I was lolling around in front of my television set and I sat up in shock. I had never thought of Pande as being anything but a Maharashtrian – we have both grown up in Nagpur and absorbed Maharashtra’s culture so well that we would both be misfits anywhere else. So the thought never even occurred to me that he could not be a legitimate claimant to a Rajya Sabha seat from Maharashtra.

“Well, if you are just North Indian and not Maharashtrian, are you applying for a seat from Haryana or Rajasthan or even Uttar Pradesh?” I asked him.

“Yes, I know what you mean. I do not have claims to any of those states. But still there are people in this world who will misinterpret if that suits their agenda.”

That statement of his set me thinking even more deeply about this whole sons of the soil thingy (I refuse to call it a policy) raising its ugly head again all across India. The Prime Minister of the country is a Sikh but represents Assam in the Rajya Sabha and neither India nor Assam has been the worse for it, after all.

There are so many others who do not represent their home states in the Rajya Sabha – Jairam Ramesh (from Karnataka, representing Andhra Pradesh), Najma Heptullah (from Maharashtra, representing Rajasthan), Rajiv Shukla (from Uttar Pradesh, representing Maharshtra) et al and I do not think that any of them did any discredit to their adopted states.

Yet, I hear this bitter argument all the time about “outsiders” seeking representations from states not their own which these critics believe does injustice to politicians from those states who might also want a representation in the Rajya Sabha.

I can see the sense of that argument, too, but then where does that leave people like Pande and one of my revered gurus, Vijay Darda? Darda (who is seeking a third term from Maharashtra) is of Marwari origin but has known only Maharashtra as his home. As has Pande. Et moi aussi.

But while I can get along in life by belonging to a state adopted as their own by parents who hail from two different regions of India, where do our politicians from similar backgrounds go?

Pande was the president of the Maharashtra unit of the National Students’ Union of India, president of the Maharashtra Youth Congress and a general secretary of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee for years before he moved to Delhi. Darda’s newspaper chain Lokmat is the largest selling Marathi publication whose circulation overtakes that of most other newspapers run by sons of the soil – clearly proving that he understands Maharashtrian readers and thier psyche better than those with full claims to being Maharashtrian.

I am sure there are ample examples like these all over the country – wasn’t MG Ramchandran, one of the most successful chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, originally from Kerala? And isn’t his successor J Jayalalitha from Karnataka? Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad represented Maharashtra in the Lok Sabha for several terms before becoming Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir years later. There are many native Marathi speakers in the Karnataka Assembly, many Bengali speakers in Assam, Bihar and Orissa, many Punjabi speakers in Jammu and Kashmir — the list can go on endlessly.

And that is as it should be – India is one country and there should be no barriers to movement or stumbling blocks put in the way of people who might want to settle in one place or the other. And that goes for politicians seeking representation to the Rajya Sabha, too. That is why, while I fully understand the ire of Congressmen in Maharashtra at the thought of having a non-Maharashtrian (read Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma) sent to the Rajya Sabha from the state (the Congress doesn’t have enough representation in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly for him to make the Rajya Sabha from his home state), I cannot endorse their argument against it.

For the first time, then, I understand the meaning of being in a Catch-22 situation. In terms of this year’s Rajya Sabha elections, if one endorses the `sons of the soil’ argument, a Anand Sharma might not get a nomination from Maharashtra but that would then lead to extending that argument to disqualify friends like Pande and Darda (though they have been living in Maharashtra for at least a generation or two) from representing the state in national politics.

And if one goes for the `free for all policy’, well, then, I deeply sympathise with locals who get marginalised all the time in the race to accommodate bigwigs who do not have enough support in their own states.

And along with so many of my friends, siblings and cousins who were born someplace after their parents migrated from elsewhere in India, I stand the risk of becoming na gha ka na ghat ka!

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