Fringe Farragoes and the Sounds of Silence
The utterances of members of the ruling front matter because there is a scent of sanction.
By Shankkar Aiyar| Published: 11th February 2018 04:00 AM
It is now a fixture on the social media’s weekly calendar. Every few days some busybody comes up with an alternative view of identity, an alternative view on science and an alternative view of political history.
On Friday, at a conference attended by members of the tourism industry and industrialists, Goa’s Town and Country Planning Minister, Vijai Sardesai, classified domestic tourists as the “scum of the earth”. He also chose to present an alternative identity — north Indians and others. Sardesai expressed a preference for rich tourists and cautioned against north Indians who wanted to “recreate Haryana in Goa”.
The tragic irony is that Sardesai wants to filter who visits Goa, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been exhorting Indians to experience India.
In a Mann Ki Baat broadcast, he observed, “It is a matter of concern when we do not see our own country, we do not know about its diversities, and nor do we understand them.” It is not known how Manohar Parrikar, the Chief Minister of Goa and until recently India’s Defence Minister, views this conceptual framework of who should, or rather who should not be visiting Goa. We also do not know, as yet, if Manohar Lal Khattar, the Chief Minister of Haryana, has reacted to the ‘honourable’ mention.
Goa’s minister is only one of the quote-makers this week. Next Sunday, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath will inaugurate the Taj Mahotsav. Earlier this week, Vinay Katiyar, BJP Member of Parliament, declared that the Taj Mahal was originally Tej Mandir, a Shiva temple that was converted into a mausoleum by the Mughals.
The theory that the Mughals razed and converted Indian monuments has been a popular narrative among revisionists for many decades. In a sense that is not surprising. Katiyar followed up with a thesis that triggered outrage. He asserted that there will be a time soon when the Taj Mahal will be converted back into Tej Mandir; that the mausoleum should and will be removed from within the superstructure.
The assertion lends a whole new connotation to the cliché that the world is divided between those who have seen the Taj and those who have not.
The Taj receives roughly a million of the nine million tourist arrivals into India. The Taj Mahal is on the list of the seven “new” wonders of the world, and is listed as a universally admired World Heritage Site by the UN. Last year, when Sangeet Som, BJP MLA, described the Taj Mahal as a “blot on Indian culture”, Prime Minister Modi had observed that no nation can move ahead without pride in its heritage, prompting the UP government to reiterate and declare the monument as a part of India’s proud heritage.
Revisionism, though, has a powerful allure. A few weeks back, another minister produced an alternative view on science. Satya Pal Singh, Minister of State for Human Resource Development, in-charge of education, introduced his own version of the theory of evolution.
Singh, who has a postgraduate degree, an MPhil in Chemistry from Delhi University and a PhD in Public Administration, found common cause with a bandwagon of alternative theorists as he declared that Charles Darwin’s thesis of evolution was flawed and unscientific.
To justify it, Singh said: “Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, said they saw an ape turning into a man. No book we have read or the tales told to us by our grandparents had any such mention.” The logic triggered a wave of disbelief and protests across India and a letter from top scientists of science academies. It was scarcely an off-the-cuff remark, or a byte blunder. It was at a conference. Singh even called for an international debate but backed off after his senior Prakash Javadekar intervened.
The issue surfaced in Parliament. Neeraj Shekhar and Ritabrata Banerjee, MPs, asked the HRD ministry if “the ministry believes that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution of man is scientifically wrong” and if the ministry is planning to omit it from school curricula. Interestingly, on February 2, the minister, in reply to “Unstarred Question No 705” in the Rajya Sabha, stated: “There is no such proposal under consideration”. The matter has been put to rest — for now.
The question why, though, persists. What is the mindset or motivation that triggers such utterances? For the record, leaders from other parties too have contributed to the babel — be it Mani Shankar Aiyar or Azam Khan.
In Tamil Nadu, DMK MLA K N Nehru suggested students may resort to cheating. In Kerala, West Bengal and poll-bound Karnataka, threats are par for the course — and frequently political rant is misogynistic, on what women must eat, drink and wear.
The utterances of members of the ruling front matter because there is a scent of sanction. It would be seductive to dub the utterances of individuals as the item songs of Indian politics, as farragoes of the fringe — except that the theme song triggers a deep sense of disquiet amidst enigmatic sounds of silence. There is madness and then there is a method, and frequently madness becomes the method.
The fifth column, in regimes and nations, but resides within.
Shankkar Aiyar, political economy analyst and Visiting Fellow at IDFC Institute, is author of Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12 Digit Revolution & Accidental India