Indian politics never lacks drama. But no one should miss the present act: it is a high point. And the hero of the play is the Bharatiya Janata Party. Some may cavil at its being called a hero. But heroes in plays do not have to be admirable. Heroes of Greek tragedies were unlucky. The hero of Devdas was a drunkard. The heroes of the Indian poliplay are adult men and women playing at being children.
First there was the hilarious Uma-Sushma duet. Both had a great idea — to shave their heads. The looks of one would have improved — it is difficult to think of anything that would worsen them. The other one would have looked like a being from space. The prospect was so beguiling. But Sonia Gandhi obviously does not share my sense of fun; she abdicated and robbed the world of some great entertainment.
Then there was the daily throat exercise in Parliament over charged ministers. The BJP is no stranger to sleeping with criminals; it had plenty of them in its bed in the various governments it formed in Uttar Pradesh. But then, the BJP is the party of holy Hindus, who can wash off their sins with one dip in the Ganges. It embraced ruffians for the good of the country. The Hindu joint family has made Hinduism as convenient as Catholicism. Catholics can sleep around all through the week; then on Sunday they can go and whisper their sins to a padre, and the entire debit balance is written off. They can start with a clean slate. But at least they are in sin till Sunday. Hindutwits have it better. Nothing ever soils these Teflon kids.
Then there were paroxysms of anger over Arjun Singh accusing the RSS of having murdered Gandhi. He was taking liberties with the truth; Godse was a member of the RSS. But the organization’s involvement in the murder was not proved. What I can say, having lived through the Quit India campaign, independence and the murder of Gandhi, is that the RSS was dead against the independence movement, and that it hated Gandhi. To be ashamed fifty years later of a murder one cherished once shows a new sense of shame — perhaps. Not just shame, but outrage — such outrage that the RSS threatened to sue Arjun Singh. I look forward to it; I hope the RSS will not get cold feet. And for once, I hope the courts will drag out the proceedings. For India needs to be reminded of what the RSS was in colonial days.
Then there was the rumpus over some plaque bearing a poem of Savarkar in Port Blair that Mani Shankar Aiyar removed. As far as I can see, he went there just to blow off some gas. IOC, a government corporation under his command, erected a furnace there and undertook to keep it supplied with gas forever — at least for as long as IOC lasts. Aiyar named it Swatantrya Jyot, and made the kind of rousing speech that politicians enjoy making. It rained throughout the ceremony; but the fire did not go off because IOC had the perspicuity to have built an octagonal canopy. But there are few flights to Port Blair, so Mani Shankar Aiyar had time on his hands. He came across this poem by Savarkar, so he had it removed. It is a pretty futile thing to do, because one day the BJP will come to power — provided it gets out of its present recursion to juvenility — and put it back. If I were Mani, with his impish sense of humour, I would have put up a plaque on Savarkar’s cell saying, “Here was a man who deserved to be here.” Then, when the BJP tried to remove it some years from now, it would have been a perfect occasion for a rumpus.
And then there was the prime minister’s spectacular throw. The NDA did not want to debate the budget; none of them understood it or could comment intelligently on it. But they had their lobbies to nurse, so they thought they would make a deal behind the doors with the prime minister. Instead of looking at their demands, the PM threw them away. I was thrilled: the PM is cultivating a new skill at an advanced age — paper-throwing. But he is obviously still a novice at it. For this piece of paper got nowhere near the waste paper basket where he no doubt meant it to go. It did not even fall to the floor. It went no further than his table. Luckily, the redoubtable opposition leaders picked up the meaning straightaway: that he meant to break a prime ministerial tradition of half a century, and be rude to them. How clever of them! And how characteristic! For if there is anything they excel at, it is paranoia.
The Congress was a shadow of its former self when it fell from power eight years ago. But it had a few shreds of its distinguished past still clinging to it. Amongst them was a sense of shame about luxury, and a certain aversion to display. It was not that Congressmen did not enjoy the good things of life. When Sanjay Gandhi travelled in the 1970s, the PMO used to send instructions to chief ministers on how his chicken should be cooked. Rajiv Gandhi enjoyed the beaches of Laccadives and Goa. It was just that Congress leaders knew how much they owed to their great leaders who chose to live modestly and could not entirely abandon their legacy.
The BJP had no such qualms. Its parents were Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Mahasabha. Both were creations of higher-caste, lower-middle-class men who feared the incertitude of the dying days of British Raj; both mirrored their creators’ fears, and created an illusory shelter in a coterie of paranoiacs. Paranoia is a peculiar ailment. It is possible to infect large masses of people with it, and it can be contagious. It is ideal for organizing mass violence. Narendra Modi’s Gujarat is a classic case of such organized, politically led attack of paranoia. Paranoia can divide people and leave deep scars of fear and hatred. But the frenzy itself is difficult to sustain. Having used it often, the Hindu joint family is an avid fan of paranoia. But it refuses to recognize that acute paranoia is a transient emotion; it cannot be used in a sustained manner. Within the cabals of the RSS, paranoia is sustained by collective ritual, mutual reinforcement, and custom. But a whole nation cannot be drawn into a permanent frenzy of paranoia. It is in the essence of its faith that the Hindu joint family cannot accept this. So it resorts every once in a while to festivals of paranoia. After the Gujarat riots, we are seeing the first major Hindutwit festival.
How long will it last' This tandava nritya may be with us for some time. For it looks to me as if the Hindutwits are going to win the Maharashtra election. It will be because of the sorry state of Maharashtra Congress and of Shinde, the wimpish chief minister. But the Hindutwits will think that they have won because of their paranoid break-dance, and resume it with greater vigour. Enjoy the spectacle, my countrymen!