(Published in Business Standard on November 1, 2014)
Twitter has been overrun by a weed-like proliferation of handles that include the word “Lutyens”. It began with @LutyensSpice, which claimed to be the “official” political gossip channel. It was shortly challenged by @LutyensMasala, which set off a bunch of satirical copycats. My favourite is the one that takes the pants off the whole idea. @BoringLutyensGossip has an exquisite deadpan flair for the absurd. (Viz: “One courier has come for Shipping Ministry. But Shipping Ministry was merged into Transport ministry in 2004. So courier has been forwarded.” Or: “Two journalists were seen entering Rajan’s office together. They left separately, because one journalist had a meeting somewhere else.” Or: “Toner has run out at Finance Ministry.”)
This is all happening because people are desperate for news from the Modi government, which, on the transparency scale, ranks slightly lower than lead. There are a few things we do know without resorting to gossip channels, though. One is that the central government is a BJP government. We know this because the orange-and-black paint on Delhi’s pavements and road dividers has been changed to green-and-stale ham. I think they were going for green-and-saffron. It’s a terrible move, aesthetically and in terms of road safety, but at least it offers a weak reminder that there’s a political party nominally in charge, not just the one chap who doth bestride the narrow world like a colossus. It’s a very weak reminder, however, which nobody is buying.
Speaking of bestriding the narrow world like a Rs 2,979 crore colossus, that Statue of Unity the prime minister is building in Gujarat is a disgraceful waste of resources that does nothing for India except add a big fat bill and promise to make our ugliest nationalists even uglier. Modi is trying his best to appropriate as many iconic historical Indian figures as possible—it’s only a matter of time before he builds a 200m tall Swachch Bharat Statue of Amitabh Bachchan sweeping, made out of brooms from every part of India. I approve heartily of his unexpected embrace of Mahatma Gandhi, among others, but he doesn’t need to build huge statues of everyone to prove his love.
He could better have used the statue money to pulp Dina Nath Batra’s textbooks that mention airplanes in ancient India, and to print some reasonable histories which he could have hired good teachers to teach in schools he could have built for kids who could have grown up with an education, rather than with a fixation on chest size and trying to out-patriot everyone else. Unity comes from teaching tolerance and inclusiveness in a diverse country, not from building giant statues. But then we’re talking about a leader who likes to believe that ancient India had plastic surgery and genetic technology, and who says nothing when communal riots break out and when policemen say that rape is a result of lack of entertainment options, so maybe education and inclusiveness aren’t really his thing.
Education seems headed for the toilet anyway now that the Human Resources Minister is taking earnest notes on the RSS version, which has several tedious chips on its shoulder. So is social progress. If the recent rioting in Delhi’s Trilokpuri neighbourhood demonstrated one thing, it is that the government can’t maintain peace in the capital under the Prime Minister’s nose, so why should we expect it to defend the borders?
Modi’s silence only amplifies the ugly symphony of misogyny, jingoism and communalism that is rising again. Who needs Halloween when you’ve got the newspapers? Silence can be a useful political tool, but it makes the electorate very grumpy. Just ask Manmohan Singh.