The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The debasement of Indian politics is not always a grim affair. Sometimes it can be a lot of fun. A ragtag army of monkeys, owls, bears and parrots, together with their keepers, may soon be trooping to Rashtrapati Bhavan and the prime minister’s residence if they manage to get the necessary appointments. They will all be protesting against the latest expression of Ms Maneka Gandhi’s legendary love for animals. These street performers allege that she has been getting them arrested and confiscating their animals, thus robbing them of their only means of livelihood, pursued with some pride for several generations. She has also been criminalizing their image, and these men feel that it was time to reclaim for themselves their right to work with dignity.

This comes at the end of a long sequence of animal-related causes which had raised basic questions about Ms Gandhi’s sense of proportion in these matters (in the Indian context), and about the entire business of making animal welfare a ministerial portfolio. She has, since then, been deprived of her ministry, but continues to have some sort of hand in these matters. Losing a ministry on utilitarian grounds is certainly no reason for a change of heart regarding the fate of animals. But creating a situation in which the heads of state might have to hold court over a panchayat of animal performers again amounts to making a mockery of the political process. She could certainly take it upon herself to educate these performers in looking after their animals better. Indeed, she is in a better position now to do this without being told off, quite rightly, for wasting taxpayers’ money. The performers demand some sort of licence from the state so that they are not harassed under the Wildlife Protection Act. This is understandable. But again, trying to imagine the ridiculous level of bureaucracy and corruption this might generate will put any administrator off this idea. These are miserably poor people struggling against economic extinction. They should be helped or educated sensibly, and the government should be spared such absurdly unnecessary business.

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