What about meyra Bharat maan?
What about teachings of the Buddha?
My Sweet Lord
What happened to secular accord?
Aren’t we equal citizens Sabh ke sabh?”
—From The Chorus of Porus by Bachchoo
In Old Delhi as my friends and I wind our way through packed alleys towards the main gate of the Jama Masjid for a meal at the renowned Karim’s eating house, we hear loud slogans from an orderly crowd. On the steep, deep steps of the mosque leading to its imposing sandstone gateway sit thousands of young men and women holding well-printed placards.
They are being addressed by men and women outlining their objections to the recent attacks by police and goons on the demonstrators who have peacefully voiced their democratic opinion opposing the recently introduced parliamentary laws which they claim discriminate against the Muslim citizens of India.
Some of the placards have photographs of the named victims of the attacks by masked goons on the residents of hostels in the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus.
The countrywide demonstrations against the recent acts of the BJP government are part of the fight for the soul of this country. Underlying the law which grants Indian citizenship to the victims of religious discrimination, refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan is a blatant irony. A law which purports to be against religious persecution of minorities becomes a de facto instrument of religious persecution against the largest “minority” of all.
In democracies, with the option of majorities voting in governments and voting them out, there exists the philosophical hope that opposition remains a matter of policy and disagreement and not of hatred and an urge to revolution.
The East India Company’s hegemony over swathes of India gave rise to the mutiny of its own mercenaries, which was then joined by forces which turned a mutiny into a war of independence.
The Russian revolution overthrew an undemocratic and oppressive monarchy. Cromwell’s forces defeated Charles I’s Cavaliers and chopped off his head. And now however much 49 per cent of the British population dislike Boris Johnson and regret his party’s victory in the elections, there is no talk of revolution. The population will hold their noses and sit it out and some will wait for BoJo’s policies to spell economic disaster and hope they can gloat in I-told-you-so moments.
Of course, democratic dissent shouldn’t turn to hatred, but in today’s world several democratically elected governments engender strong feelings in their opponents. In one tall new office building in Mumbai (I shan’t identify it!) on the landings of the staircases there are on the walls the splatterings of paan spittle. That’s a common Indian phenomenon, an unacceptable but tolerated civic nuisance perpetrated by the socially untrained and uncaring. One antidote to such spitting has been the plastering of the corners of these landings with images of Krishna, Shiva, the Kaabaa, Buddha, the cross etc. to inhibit those who fear the gods if not environmental decency.
On this one landing, already plastered with the red splashes of paan, some wit has stuck images of Narendra Modiji and the home minister, Amit Shah. The experiment is probably dedicated to discovering whether this will inhibit spitting or work in some contrary way. The inhibitory holy images are commonplace, though I have never seen images of devils or villains which might encourage people to “commit nuisance”. Perhaps the intention of the prankster was not a practical experiment, but merely satirical.
It may be the sort of satire cartoonists practise in a more existential form, a branching out of the art as installations became accepted extensions of painting and sculpture. Or perhaps one could label the fixing of those politician’s images on the landing as an “installation”. It’s the sort of thing that could be entered for the Turner Prize in Britain, just as the artist Tracey Emin’s bed, littered with her dirty underwear, bric-a-brac and used condoms was. Installations provoke thought and Mr Modi and Mr Shah’s photographs on the spittle landing certainly provoke mine. I shall be on the lookout for more such installations by the artist who remains as anonymous as Banksy.
Satire is a constant weapon in a democracy. After the victory of Boris Johnson in the British elections in December, the magazine Private Eye’s cover showed him being handed the present of the country by Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn dressed as Santa Claus. A favourite, if lazy, image of Opposition is to paint a square moustache and a strand of black hair across the forehead of the satirised, male or female. Characterising your opponent as Hitler may not be subtle but it has become the favourite abuse of political opposition. What’s terrifying is that in certain circumstances and in describing certain political moves around the world, the epithet of “fascist” is manifestly appropriate.
Which brings me, gentle reader, to a curious but undignified piece of satire I was sent on e-mail this week. It was an image of Chuck Schumer, the US leader of the minority democrats in the Senate, with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, against an Iranian flag. Chuck is wearing an ayatollah’s turban and Nancy is demurely dressed in a burqa.
The slogan under this picture says “The corrupted Dems trying their best to come to the Ayatollahs’ rescue”.
If this was the work of a right-wing satirical magazine it would pass as the cut and thrust of political aggression, but it’s not. If it was some college prankster, expert at photoshopping, it would amuse his friends and make his parents proud. But it’s not! It’s a retweet of this image from none other than the present occupant of the White House, the President of the United States, with the gleefully added slogan.
Childish is one word which comes to mind and undignified is the other. One can hear the rumblings under the earth of the Oak Ridge cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, as Abraham Lincoln turns in his grave....