Don't Laugh. Vanish!

Editorial June 2012

Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

German philosopher Friedrich Neitzsche wrote that “an idea can make you ill”. He also said, “All truth is simple… is that not doubly a lie?” Across the Indian landscape stalked by the heat wave, this apocalyptic illness, as much as the manufactured consent of lies, seems to have acquired diabolical proportions, however pompous, self-righteous and incestuous it might seem in the first instance. Don’t even ask: why do we hate an intellectual, progressive or revolutionary renaissance? Or, why our social and cultural movements seem to have got stuck in the conformist, clockwise, clichéd motion of stupefied stagnation and hypocrisy?


For all we know, we seem to have decisively dumped all the in-house traditions of critical enlightenment, subversive humour and social reform: from Kabir and Tukaram to Marx, Ambedkar, Nehru, Gandhi and Bhagat Singh! We neither seem to cherish the complex iconoclasm of Kabir’s Bhakti movement, nor Marx’s historic vision of the class struggle and an egalitarian society; neither Dr BR Ambedkar’s unprecedented rebellion against the Hindu caste society, nor Gandhi’s transparent contradictions; or Nehru’s big-hearted, cathartic laughter. The dream sequences of a new horizon, or the great sacrifices of the freedom movement, including the revolutionary movement of the communists and radicals, seem to have been fossilised in the dead stagnation of selective full page ads, or ritualistic rhetoric and PR exercises. The entire political class seems to have been pushed into an anti-joke, humourless, hardened stasis of a quagmire in this end of enlightenment era, where vested interests, driven by perverse instincts to manipulate mass consciousness through shallow electoral game-changers, seem to be the morning stars of hope. No wonder, for instance, instead of dismantling its oppressive code of conduct, the caste system in India seems to be becoming more and more resilient, manipulated for vote-bank politics, in the vast, fragmented landscape plagued by mass illiteracy, infinite poverty, malnourishment, hunger and farmer suicides. Indeed, even when politicians (or media/corporates) talk of this India, it seems like archival footage they are compelled to eye-witness, almost metaphysical and unreal, beyond the ground reality of bitter realism, almost an optical illusion or a desert mirage. As if this idea can make them truly ill, while the truth they speak of becomes a double lie: an Orwellian doublespeak!


In this camouflaged democracy, therefore, a mushrooming of camouflaged, unhappy autocrats become a priori. So who will draw a cartoon if the Lady of Poes Garden offers another 45-course meal to the Butcher of Gujarat? And how is a genocide so socially intolerant, and why should the Neo-Nazi-Vikas Purush not enter Bihar and campaign for his “socialist, secular” allies? After all, the current chief minister (railway minister during the Godhra and post-Godhra killings) chose stunning complicity during the carnage, didn’t he? And if he can hang out so happily with the killers of Gujarat and those who demolished the Babri Masjid, how is a cartoonist to be blamed, if he puts it in perspective?


Hence, when Mamata Banerjee puts activists, students and a scientist in jail for opposing a slum demolition to benefit big builders, eliminates and imprisons Maoists or sympathisers, brands queries of young students as a “CPM question/Maoist question”, or hounds a professor for circulating a caricature — she is only repeating what all “democratic dictators” have done through centuries. Here, the dark irony is that she is playing dirty with all those whom she “used” so brazenly — in Nandigram, Singur, Lalgarh, Jangalmahal -— to ride piggyback to power. Vanish: that’s what happened to all her "Ma, Maati, Manush” promises. Like the cartoon inspired by Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella. Hence, the comedy of errors: Sowhy are We a Cartoon of a Democracy!

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JUNE 2012