The big dilemma that Maneka Gandhi faces

Her re­sponse to the or­ches­trated killing of a tiger in Ma­ha­rash­tra shows that her for­bear­ance has its lim­its

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Comment - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI Gopalkrishna Gandhi is distin­guished pro­fes­sor of his­tory and pol­i­tics, Ashoka Univer­sity The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

All of us have gifts. Maneka Gandhi’s gift, amount­ing to a pas­sion has been an­i­mals. She knows all that can be known about an­i­mal needs, an­i­mal be­hav­iour. And, more to the point, she knows all too well how we hu­mans mis­treat an­i­mals, in the wild and in do­mes­tic or un-civil­ian care. And this makes her rage.

This also makes Maneka Gandhi who and what she is. Wil­liam Blake’s great poem ‘Tyger, tiger burn­ing bright’, she must know by heart. As the one with ‘A robin red­breast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage’ has to be her Bible. For the last five years, how­ever, in keep­ing with the deco­rum of cab­i­net pro­to­col and the dharma of pol­i­tics, her rage over our mis­treat­ment of an­i­mals has had to be caged. Her depart­ment be­ing Women and Child Wel­fare, her nat­u­ral, spon­ta­neous, in­stinc­tive care for an­i­mals in dis­tress has had to be a slow, in­ter­nal burn. The num­ber of ele­phants be­ing elec­tro­cuted or train­mowed, mi­gra­tory pel­i­cans be­ing blud­geoned on their tran­quil lake-perches for meat, spot­ted deer dy­ing in great num­ber of food poi­son­ing must be galling to her.

But her re­sponse to the or­ches­trated killing of a tiger in Ma­ha­rash­tra, shows that her for­bear­ance has its lim­its. And, ex­plod­ing, she has said she will fight this among other ways, po­lit­i­cally.

I am not sure what that means but I as­sume, go­ing by the nor­mal sense of the phrase, that she in­tends to speak about this not just as an an­i­mal rights pro­tec­tor to an­i­mal rights vi­o­la­tors but as a po­lit­i­cal leader to other po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and, more specif­i­cally, as a po­lit­i­cal leader from one for­ma­tion, NDA, to oth­ers within the same for­ma­tion who have ju­ris­dic­tion over the site of what she has called “the ghastly mur­der” of the tiger.

It is im­por­tant that be­fore pro­ceed­ing any fur­ther she gives the Ma­ha­rash­tra side of things close and se­ri­ous at­ten­tion. The tiger is per­ilously en­dan­gered, of course, but one has to be a lo­cal vil­lager to know what it means to be ter­rorised by a wild an­i­mal be it fe­line, bovine or any other.

Was the ac­tion in Ma­ha­rash­tra driven by tiger-hate or sheer fear? This is no idle thought but an ex­is­ten­tial ques­tion on hu­man-an­i­mal con­flict and the role of the State in that bit­ter dilemma.

Maneka Gandhi’s gift be­ing what it is, her rage be­ing what it is, when some­thing goes be­yond her en­durance level, she must protest ac­cord­ing to her be­liefs and, praise be to her, protest she has. How has that been taken by her po­lit­i­cal com­rades?

Ashoka, who gave, in his Pil­lar Edict V what may be called the world’s first pro­to­type for a Wildlife Pro­tec­tion Act or at any rate its in­au­gu­ral list of pro­tected species, is not the NDA’s favourite fig­ure from his­tory. Why? Be­cause he for­swore im­pe­rial and su­prem­a­cist am­bi­tions, es­pe­cially the method of war and con­quest, and made Hin­duism’s great­est re­former, the Bud­dha, his pre­cep­tor.

The Mau­ryan em­peror has gone into in the an­nals of the world for three things: his post-Kalinga war atone­ment, his re­nun­ci­a­tion of the method of war, and his star­tlingly new vi­sion of what may be called an­i­mal sub­jects or an­i­mal cit­i­zens. But with­out his aura of a par­tial re­nun­ci­ate, Ashoka’s ex­am­ple would have been far less im­pact­ful.

Two hun­dred years ago, a tiger hunter, John Smith of the 28th Cavalry, while hunt­ing the great cat, rode into a tan­gle of for­est growth around a set of caves and dis­cov­ered what we now know as the Ajanta caves, in Ahmed­na­gar, Ma­ha­rash­tra. He was blown away when he be­held, hid­den by vir­gin fo­liage, those spec­tac­u­lar mu­rals on the Bud­dha’s life.

Tigers, Ma­ha­rash­tra and Bud­dhist com­pas­sion go to­gether. If Maneka Gandhi were to let the mur­dered tiger of Ma­ha­rash­tra join the list of In­dia’s slain tigers, she will lose noth­ing and life will go on. If on the other hand she de­cides not to, she will gain hugely. Will she re­sign over this? “Re­sign? Over a mere tiger?”, they will say. But do “they”, in some­thing as vi­tal to her as this, mat­ter? If she does, it should not be a step against a par­tic­u­lar ‘shooter’, a par­tic­u­lar set of for­est of­fi­cers and cer­tainly not against the Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment. This tiger mur­dered, sym­bol­ises an­i­mal rights vi­o­la­tions by a cal­lous In­dia.

If, on that larger is­sue, Maneka Gandhi re­signs, she will stun the world of na­ture es­pe­cially wildlife con­ser­va­tion, star­tle the eco­log­i­cal move­ment glob­ally and fo­cus an al­to­gether new at­ten­tion to an­i­mal rights. And make from the land of the Bud­dha and Ashoka a civil­i­sa­tional con­tri­bu­tion that will burn bright in the for­est of our po­lit­i­cal night.

HT AR­CHIVES

Min­is­ter for women and child devel­op­ment ▪Maneka Gandhi

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