| Goddesses of noise
Even a leader like Milosevic appeared on national television in October 2000 to make what astonished observers described as a gracious speech conceding defeat. He thanked those who voted for him and also those who did not. “I congratulate Mr. Kostunica on his victory,” he concluded, “and I wish all citizens of Yugoslavia every success in the next few years.” Closer home, I recall a friend who had spent a year in jail during the Emergency telling me, after the heady electoral defeat of Indira Gandhi in 1977, that Mrs Gandhi stepped down without any unseemly fuss. At any rate, she knew how to acknowledge defeat.
But in the elections of 2004, we witnessed a somewhat different kind of response to defeat — a response that ranged from sulky silence to farcical theatrics. The Bharatiya Janata Party combine showed us, once again, that they are unique, even in the way they take an electoral verdict.
Consider what the BJP leaders did when the electorate showed them the door. Some were quiet. Very, very quiet. And some others made a great big ruckus. The quiet route was the option favoured by the seniors of the BJP combine soon after the election results. These silver-tongued seniors, assigned to wear the elder-statesmen masks, were suddenly resoundingly silent. It was left to us to imagine a few possible behind-the-scenes.
For example, in one scene, the man partial to pretend-poetry made a quick speech on television that sounded like an old recording. He was then reduced to silence, possibly by a severe case of telephone fatigue. Those phone calls to unsuspecting citizens (and those endless, expensive TV advertisements) had used up all his one-sided eloquence. In another scene, the man partial to pretend-chariots seemed to watch in sulky silence as his rath, which he thought ready and gleaming for its victory roll, spluttered its way into the sunset. He knew there was every possibility that it was heading home, the yard where used-up junk is taken apart scrap by scrap. In yet another scene, the man partial to all things gloriously bogus and abracadabra seemed to have locked himself into a room specially designed for conducting crazy experiments. Except this time, it was doubtful whether he was inventing anything. Perhaps he was, with the help of sundry planetary, lunar and Vedic positions, figuring out where his recipe (a tablespoon of saffron and a pinch of spiritual values for a cupful of pure Hindu zeroes) went wrong.
A couple of the middle-level warriors of the combine also, surprisingly, chose silence as their reaction to defeat. One — the brutish hate-machine — could have been quiet for a good reason. Perhaps he was refurbishing his speeches and updating them with his post-election analysis. To him it could well have been as clear as his venom: all those who voted against the BJP are terrorists. Or foreigners. Or foreign terrorists, the worst kind. Or terrorizing foreigners, especially the kind from Italy. At any rate, the general public suspicion was that his silence would be temporary, because now there were so many more people to push across the border into the mian’s arms.
Just as every country-mouse has his counterpart in the town-mouse, the brutish hate-machine has a cousin in the suave hate-machine. (It must be said, though, that despite his burden of suaveness, this one hates just as well as the brute.) Unfortunately, the election results seemed to have gobbled up a biggish chunk of his suaveness. When he finally chose to end his post-defeat silence, it was only to pick on a victim his party had already officially labelled a mere child. It might well be the first time an election shrank a suave hate-machine to the size of a garden-variety school-bully, picking on the newest baby in the classroom. It was almost as if the bully couldn’t seem to decide on the question of Silence versus Ruckus. It’s no wonder then that his attempts to break the big silence just didn’t have enough circus value. That was left to those of the combine (the usual suspects, of course) who went, with gusto, for Option Two: the big, public ruckus.
Again, it was no surprise that there was something of a tussle among these attention-getters for the coveted post of ringmaster. The first aspirant rushed straight from Tirupati to the centre of the ring to show off his latest trick: head minus hair. (Now it was the turn of the public to be struck dumb by the spectacle.) But since this bald-pate didn’t have much to say anymore, he could only hold attention for a moment or two, and he was soon hopelessly sidelined by the noisiest of ringmaster aspirants. The new champion of circus antics, a veritable goddess of noise, cracked her whip (blood-red, like the parting of her hair), and screamed of hurt sentiments and foreign blood. So inspired was her display of love for the country and her love for tender sentiments, that she outshone, effortlessly, the copious tears of love being shed offstage by the election winners for their reluctant leader. Everyone got caught up in keeping track of her daily non sequiturs. The question on everyone’s lips was, “Will she do it' Will she put the razor (and not even one blessed by Tirupati) to her head'”
All this screaming and threatening must have been infectious. Already incensed by the defeat and the silence of the elder statesmen, the other circus-folk ran round the ringmaster, exhorting their speechless leaders to get back to where they always belonged. (They didn’t need to spell out exactly where they belonged since the public had already had an overdose of their Hindutva refrain.)
The rest of us, the long-suffering electorate, nodded our heads from our ringside seats. No, we were not keeping time to the beat of the scream or the threat of Hindutva, shaven or unshaven. Just nodding in confirmation of all our most nasty suspicions. During the election campaign, we were subjected to epic-length speeches on television, as frequent as the ubiquitous commercial break, on development. On roads, on progress, on all things bright and shining. But post-elections, when masks and their newly moderate rhetoric were no longer of use, we were treated to the real face — or the real, shining, barren head — of what an irreverent, but precise, wit has christened the Bharatiya Mundan Party.