THE HOUSE OF DARK ARTS

India Today - - SIGNATURE -

As­nail. A whip. Dr Ambed­kar. Pan­dit Nehru. And a House on fire. It has been a text­book case of a na­tion sur­ren­der­ing its mind to the care­tak­ers of en­dan­gered icons. A lit­tle fact mars the script: Shankar’s car­toon, first pub­lished in 1949, does not blast the icon, Dr Babasa­heb Ambed­kar. It only shows the slow pro­gres­sion of the fram­ing of the Con­sti­tu­tion and the im­pa­tience of Ambed­kar as well as Prime Min­is­ter Nehru. But an Ambed­kar rid­ing a snail? And a whip- lash­ing Nehru be­hind him? That is blas­phemy too large to be con­tained by the eas­ily in­sulted Par­lia­ment of In­dia. The of­fend­ing car­toon and more of such at­tacks on the iconog­ra­phy of the Repub­lic will be ban­ished from the text­books of In­dia, the min­is­ter for His­tor­i­cal Cleans­ing and Po­lit­i­cal Pu­rifi­ca­tion has al­ready as­sured the House.

What’s re­ally amaz­ing is the unity of the of­fended. Petty di­vi­sions of party af­fil­i­a­tions have dis­ap­peared in the col­lec­tive rage against the “art of in­sult”. What was at stake was not just the sanc­tity of Ambed­kar; al­most the en­tire po­lit­i­cal class stood up against the dis­tort­ing, lam­poon­ing art of the car­toon­ist. They were all Ma­mata Ban­er­jee that day. This sol­i­dar­ity of the in­sulted, though, tells a larger story about the dan­ger the his­tor­i­cal icons of In­dia faces from— no, not the car­toon­ists— their self- ap­pointed pro­tec­tors. So Ambed­kar should be noth­ing other than a mar­ble statue in the park. The story of Gandhi and Nehru should not be re­deemed from the of­fi­cial nar­ra­tive of the In­dian Na­tional Congress. Even the life of Aurobindo should not be res­cued from the com­fort zone of piety. The past has to be a per­fec­tion— no shad­ows, no grey. It has to be an idyll where fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will pic­nic with an up­lift­ing sense of na­tional grat­i­tude.

It is a po­lit­i­cal ideal In­dia can do with­out. Only a na­tion built on lies and man­u­fac­tured mytholo­gies needs the divin­ity of he­roes who soar be­yond the ques­tion­ing gaze of the cit­i­zen. His­tory is a shift­ing site of read­ings and re- read­ings, where dead cer­tain­ties con­tinue to be swept aside. The pol­i­tics of para­noia dreads the rus­tle of pages that ques­tions the re­ceived wis­dom. The House of Par­lia­ment is a peo­ple’s high­est shrine of free­dom in a democ­racy. And to­day it is from this House that we hear the shrillest voices against free­dom. Lis­ten to them and we re­alise how frag­ile is their con­fi­dence as stake­hold­ers of one of the world’s most volatile democ­ra­cies. “These text­books are poi­son­ing young, im­pres­sion­is­tic minds….” “These are col­lec­tions of the worst car­toons of politi­cians. And these books are go­ing to mould the minds to hate politi­cians, pol­i­tics and en­dan­ger democ­racy…” “Are these so- called schol­ars part of the con­spir­acy to de­fame the po­lit­i­cal class in this coun­try?” I wish these were com­ments gen­er­ated by some samiz­dat publi­ca­tions in Py­ongyang or Ha­vana.

These stray sen­tences are un­likely to save pol­i­tics from the dark art of car­toon­ists. True, pol­i­tics is not a bad word, even if we are pay­ing the heav­i­est price for bad pol­i­tics. Also true, ev­ery politi­cian is not a ve­nal crea­ture. Pol­i­tics gets cal­ci­fied when its worst pro­fes­sion­als close their minds and be­gin to take copy­right over the mind of oth­ers. Such politi­cians want a sani­tised his­tory— and a text­book that mir­rors it. Bet­ter they watch out. Some­one out there, a stu­dent de­nied of his car­toons in the text­book most prob­a­bly, is watch­ing the live tele­cast on the Lok Sabha Tele­vi­sion. Sadly those car­toons are hardly en­ter­tain­ing.

ONLY A NA­TION BUILT ON LIES AND MAN­U­FAC­TURED MYTHOLO­GIES NEEDS THE DIVIN­ITY OF HE­ROES WHO SOAR BE­YOND THE QUES­TION­ING GAZE OF THE CIT­I­ZEN. HIS­TORY IS A SHIFT­ING SITE OF READ­INGS AND RE- READ­INGS, WHERE DEAD CER­TAIN­TIES CON­TINUE TO BE SWEPT ASIDE.

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