(Published in Business Standard on October 4, 2013)
If you think of the capital as a large accretion of stuffed shirts who only speak bureaucratese, you’re quite right. But last week the place was all a-twitter—so much so that some of the twitter was actually outside of Twitter. Delhi became that Edvard Munch set of paintings, The Scream, in which a Lord Voldemort-type creature with wild eyes and an O-shaped mouth appears to howl against an agitated backdrop. I find most art commentary to be about as helpful as having someone call out the times tables when you’re trying not to drown, so I’ll just say that the creature in the painting looks horrified.
Delhi was the scene of fevered, outraged debate. We spent an entire week debating respect and dominance. What it looks like, who should have it, for whom, when, to what degree, how it should be deployed, who didn’t get it, and why, and so on. We’re still doing this. The earth will resume spinning only when the television channels have fully gotten this debate off their chests.
Everyone has spent so much emotional energy on whether Rahul Gandhi should or shouldn’t have borrowed someone else’s press meet, or used the word ‘nonsense’ about an ordinance cleared by his party and by the government, or done this while the PM was abroad, that we have entirely forgotten to enjoy the fact that a truly scandalous piece of legislation that fully deserved to be torn up and thrown out—to coin a phrase—has, finally, been torn up and thrown out.
This is a good thing. It needed to happen. Right?
Yeah, forget that. Let’s get back to the fact that apparently now the PM should never again presume to meet his own eye in the mirror. Rumour has it that, despite the fatal injury to his sense of self-worth, the man continues to breathe. His indecent insistence on remaining composed and reasonable is obviously either caused by temerity, or a spirit so broken that it cannot evaluate its own unworthiness. Shame on him for not collapsing in a little heap of misery!
This is a total mystery to me. Why should a contrary opinion undermine the Prime Minister of India? He certainly doesn’t appear to be acting all undermined. Surely the office isn’t as fragile as that? Surely the inability to hear dissent is a chief characteristic not of a democrat but of an autocra—oh, that reminds me: Narendra Modi held a big rally in Delhi, at which he, too, expressed breast-beating horror at the disrespect to the PM, this time from Pakistan.
Modi thundered that the Pakistani PM had called our PM a village woman—put aside, for a moment, the other debate over whether or not he (the Pakistani PM) actually had—and that he (NaMo) didn’t think he (their PM) had any business calling him (our PM) a woman, because while he (NaMo) thought the PM (ours) is weak and incompetent, he (our PM) is not THAT weak and incompetent, and that this dread insult to the nation (ours) could only be avenged by drinking the blood of a thousand militants (theirs) straight from the jugular to the sound of a conch and electing him (NaMo) to lead the country (ours). I’m paraphrasing, but it’s about right. Wait a minute: you’re actually, really, using the term ‘woman’ to humiliate someone, and nobody said boo?
The takeaway from this week’s newspapers, then, was largely this: publicly calling out a rotten piece of legislation is disrespectful; but publicly insulting half a billion Indians goes unnoticed.
Funny peculiar, not funny ha ha.