Regular-article-logo Tuesday, 27 February 2024

The shahs of blah

Tripura CM Biplab Deb's gaffes are, well, a national mouthful. But why paint him into a corner alone?

Upala Sen Published 06.05.18, 12:00 AM
Illustration: Suman Choudhury

Everyone is laughing. Laughing and laughing and laughing. After becoming the first BJP chief minister of Tripura this March, Biplab Kumar Deb is suddenly king of Twipura. You just have to look online under #BiplabDebLogic and you will know what we mean.

Someone has posted a photograph of a youth, book in hand, seated on a stool but hanging from the ceiling. The tweet reads - Biplab Deb's idea of higher studies. One meme is of the actress much castigated for her general knowledge, Alia Bhatt, in splits and the tag line running across it - And then you say it was just me. And of course these - only farmers can use Kissan products, only women in labour can celebrate Labour Day, only dentists should fix car dents, only those using Amazon Prime can become Prime Ministers...

In the past few days, Deb has earned these barbs by making one ludicrous statement after another, the overall effect enforced by the sobriety of his high office.

From science - he claimed the Internet is something that existed even during the time of the Mahabharata - to administration - only civil engineers should opt for the civil services - to aesthetics - he said Diana Hayden did not deserve to be Miss World, but Aishwarya Rai did - he voiced his opinion on a variety of subjects.

He was not speaking out of turn though. The Internet comment was made at a public event on digitisation in the public distribution system. The tip for civil engineers came on Civil Services Day, once again at a function. On the same occasion, he made a comment on polity, which he likened to the lauki or bottlegourd. What he said, roughly translates thus - Every morning the lauki arrives in the market in pristine condition. But during the day, poked and prodded by prospective customers it becomes bruised and unsaleable. Warned Deb, "This should not happen to my government. I will chop off the nails of anyone who dares interfere with my government." The attack on Ms Hayden came in the course of a design workshop, when he was apparently making a case for better marketing of Tripura's handlooms. And on Buddha Purnima, he said something about Buddha walking all the way to Japan.

Everyone is still laughing. Laughing and laughing. Some have even said on social media that the comedian, Kapil Sharma, has serious competition, might even go into depression.

But if one were to obliterate the attribution and just read the statements, it would be difficult to fix any one name.

Don't believe anybody on this. Just keep in mind the general tenor of Deb's statements and now sample these.

Statement 1: Stephen Hawking said the Vedas have theory superior to Albert Einstein's E = mc 2. Statement 2: Cow is the only animal that inhales and exhales oxygen. Statement 3: We need not look to an US observatory for specifics about lunar and solar eclipses; our pundits consulting the Panchang (Hindu calendar) can do better. Statement 4: Cow urine can treat cancer. Statement 5: Yoga is a solution to all problems, including farmer deaths. Statement 6: Ganesha, the elephant god, is proof that India always knew of plastic surgery. Statement 7: Cow dung is more precious than the Kohinoor, even the Supreme Court says so. Statement 8: Darwin's theory of evolution is wrong and needs to be expunged from school and college curricula; nobody ever saw an ape turn into a man. Statement 9: There is no difference between the language of Shah Rukh Khan and Hafiz Saeed. Statement 10: In 2014, after 30 years, 600 crore or 6 billion voters in India (our population is 1.3 billion) provided complete majority to a political party to form government at the Centre. Statement 11: If a person has a cycle, a person aspires a scooter. If a person has a scooter, a person aspires a car. It is natural to aspire. India is getting increasingly aspirational. Statement 12: India has finally been able to electrify all its villages before the set target date and to bear it up, a Nasa map of India on Diwali night.

The attributions, if you must have them, are in the following order - Union minister of science and technology Harsh Vardhan, Rajasthan's education minister Vasudev Devnani, home minister Rajnath Singh, RSS leader Indresh Kumar, Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, Union minister Satyapal Singh, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath when he was still not CM, the PM at Davos in January, the PM in London this April, Union minister Piyush Goyal on behalf of the PM, last week.

Different speakers but the same chant, the same tenor. Only public reactions vary, from laughter to embarrassment to outrage, depending on the stature of the leader.

Everyone is laughing, but the BJP is dead serious. The BJP and the RSS are not stopping at a collective incantatory tactic, some of these things are getting institutionalised as we speak.

The Telegraph reported in February this year how a lot of these claims are now part of the orientation programme and refresher course for university teachers. The report quoted a participating teacher who recalled how a speaker likened subatomic particles - electrons, protons and neutrons - to the Hindu Trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwar. Another remembered being urged to practise yoga in a talk that should have focused on the use of e-learning in curricula.

From covert to overt, a small leap for the BJP, a big leap of credulity. There have been reports of the IITs being flooded with research proposals on the benefits of cow urine and cow dung. The science and technology ministry set up a "national steering committee" to guide research to assess the many claimed virtues of panchgavya, a traditional concoction of cow dung, urine, milk, curd and ghee, mixed with water and three other ingredients.

In April this year, the science community of the country shepherded by the NGO, Breakthrough Science Society (BSS), took out its second countrywide march. In 2017, according to the BSS site, it had demanded greater budgetary allocation for scientific and technological research and education; an end to propagation of unscientific, obscurantist outdated ideas and development of scientific temper; enacting of policies based on scientific evidence; and need to ensure that the education system did not impart ideas that contradict scientific evidence. This year's appeal reads: "The forces acting against science have become more active, and the funding for education and science remains dismally low."

Education, science and history, too. Last year, there was a news report that claimed a history committee had been set up by the BJP government with the express purpose of rewriting certain aspects of Indian history. Culture minister Mahesh Sharma denied this, but he did say that the 17-member multi-disciplinary committee was meant to verify facts that establish the rich history of India and its culture. The advisory committee set up to study the origins of the mythical river, Saraswati, was granted an extension. In the meantime, the 2014 election promise of cleaning up the Ganga remains unfulfilled.

Everyone is still laughing at Biplab Deb. But who is he? No one had heard of him before he was para-dropped to Tripura in 2016. In television interviews to channels in Tripura, his mother, Meena Deb, talks about him being an obedient, undemanding son. His uncle talks about how Biplab's birth overlapped with the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, and how that's why he came to be named Biplab or revolution. His Bengali Hindu parents had migrated to India from Chandpur in Bangladesh to adjoining Tripura that year. Very little is known of his pre-chief minister avatar, except that he was an RSS volunteer. There were initial reports about him having worked as a gym instructor in Delhi, but he denied those later.

On the day he assumed office, he touched the feet of the man he replaced as CM, CPM's Manik Sarkar. In a-day-in-the-life-of videos, he is seen surrounded by family, his face softening at the mention of his children. His deference to the honest critique of his wife, an employee of a public sector bank, is apparent.

Post win, however, he has assumed other, newer ways.

Colourful kurtas, waistcoats to match. Look carefully and you will spot the shadow of a familiar swagger. One time he hugged the Prime Minister a little too warmly and with such gusto. The photograph of the glaring PM clinched in the younger man's earnest embrace went viral.

Deb has even developed a prescriptive manner of late. He said recently, "Why run after netas for government jobs? Milk is be- ing sold at Rs 50 per litre. Graduates should get cows and milk them to earn Rs 10 lakh in 10 years."

Listen carefully, and you will catch the echo of a crisp sentiment expressed by another, not so long ago. The same bravado. The same disregard for facts.

It is said in these parts that a falsehood repeated thrice becomes an incontestable truth.

If only you would stop laughing, you would realise what is happening here.

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