What is it about a tiger that so enthrals anyone who visits a national park? Is it fear: one wrong move and maybe the tiger would maul us? Over the last few days at the Panna national park, driving around in the cold in an open jeep in search of the elusive tiger, I had an epiphany: Indians desire a benevolent dictator.
The Panna national park is exploding with flora and fauna but it is the predators — the tiger and the leopard — that everyone wants to see. Over the course of the trip I had the opportunity to meet with visitors who like to call themselves “tiger spotters”. They move from one national park to the next looking for tigers. Hearing them talk about tigers is like hearing a hunter talk about the prey. And, perhaps, that is where the charm of the tiger lies. The hunted is no longer the hunted and the hunter is no longer the hunter. The tiger is figurehead of the jungle. When it kills, it hopes the forest department barricade the paths so it can at least eat in peace. Inside the park there are traffic jams and nauseating diesel fumes; there are children with packets of chips, there are men who think they can teach the wildlife officials a thing or two about how to manage a forest, but most importantly, there is desire, for a real tiger, not a toothless one like in the forest, but someone with every traditional attri
bute of a tiger and something else: a heart.
What is a benevolent dictator if not a tiger with a heart? Over the last few weeks observing and participating in protests against the CAA across Mumbai I felt the dissipation of the revolutionary spirit in the air. The youth don’t want a radical change, they want to be heard, and be counted. The desire isn’t for a healthy functioning democracy but for single window clearance when it comes to their demands. Such a desire, even though the protesters may not know this, or may not acknowledge it, can only be met when confronted with a benevolent dictator.
What is then a benevolent dictator? It is, in my opinion, thanks to Amit Shah, the image that PM Narendra Modi is slowly but surely acquiring. Say what you will about Mr Shah, but his greatest contribution to the Indian set up right now is that he managed to make Mr Modi look like a moderate — a tiger safely ensconced in a national park.
The rage against the populace that Mr Shah displays, the venom with which he speaks, the fire in his eyes, and perhaps in his belly, the mission he is on, will leave the nation with no option but to petition the benevolent dictator for some relief. And every time I see the protests or participate in one, I get the feeling that in the jungle called India, the people are calling for the tiger to show his face and scare the bears and wolves into retreat.
There is a fascination in the mind of the public for the predator. The fear of being consumed, bones and all, also comes with the excitement and thrill of being left alone. No one calls the tiger a predator. Everywhere I went in the park and everyone I spoke to referred to the tiger as the king of the jungle. Such a reference was always marked by a deep nostalgia for the times when things were simpler and human beings allowed their nature to follow the so-called natural order of things. And it isn’t just in our country. The whole world is obsessed with the tiger. At a time when science tells us that it isn’t the tiger but the honeybee that may go extinct and take the human race with it, every soul wants to save the tiger. There are campaigns that demand funds with the righteous indignation of a blue-blooded trade union leader. Who cares about the sting of a bee when there is the promise of being mauled by a hungry tiger?
The tiger that the government claims Mr Modi is, isn’t interested in harming the populace. What he’s really after is the bones of the institutions that make our country great. Our cherished Constitution, our courts, our police, our universities, etc. Having eaten up the design of our democracy, the nation, the roar of the tiger will finally become scary, loud, and predatory. It will arouse and scare people in equal measure.
Deep down, people demand their own repression. People like to be disciplined, shown the way, and punished for not following the rules. A dictator, a benevolent one, is a binary operation — punishment and reward are the two logic gates that operate. Think about it, if Mr Modi and Mr Shah appear on national television and Mr Modi growls at Mr Shah’s indiscretions, won’t the nation cheer him?
Mayank Tewari is the writer of Newton, Accidental Prime Minister, and Bard of Blood...