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
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.
Minister for women and child development ▪Maneka Gandhi