Poor Varun Gandhi is being pilloried for launching a satyagraha despite himself. His hate speech in Pilibhit did not exactly expose the true nature of reality — police records reveal no evidence of Muslims oppressing Hindus in the area, and his allegation of communal motivation in recent rape cases is similarly fabricated. But he did expose the true opinions of many of his colleagues in the Sangh parivar, who are careful to conceal them behind a smoke-screen of politely supercilious sophistry. In that pallid, dismal sense, what the TV cameras captured in Pilibhit was a satyagraha, and we really mustn’t expect better in our godless times.
We have reached such a pass in political ethics that we cannot trust our politicians to go campaigning without following them about with a camera. Constant surveillance is for the criminally inclined. Cameras are deployed to watch out for thieves and robbers. They are used to crimp the style of terrorists. Now, we are forced to impose surveillance on our parliamentary candidates, the people to whom we are about to entrust our future for half a decade.
Varun Gandhi’s hate speech, replete with promises to cut off hands and heads offensive to Hindutva, is juvenile and filmi. It reminds one of Rajnikanth in his callow years, kissing the crucifix on his necklace before beating up the rest of the cast except the female lead. But its visual impact has obscured the fact that it is part of a trend. The cameras have also caught cash being distributed for votes in the poll meetings of Varun and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Both have sought refuge by cavilling that they were not giving it away with their own hands. Which the actor Govinda was, and he proudly claimed it was anciently sanctioned by Indian heritage — parampara or tehzeeb, to use his own words in two languages.
This brazen disregard for law is a throwback to the bad old days. We’ve always had electoral malpractice but in the early 90s, when T.N. Seshan rode roughshod over the political class with a widely applauded fascist disregard for common niceties, sharp dealing had to go underground. Now, the ugly thing is out in the open again. The insouciance with which the accused are excusing themselves suggests that the Election Commission, which Seshan made pre-eminent over the electoral process, is losing ground. If the Varun incident had happened 15 years ago, he would not have had the brass face to claim that the video had been doctored to discredit him.
Meanwhile, my mailbox is getting kind of crowded. The internet is buzzing with emails celebrating Varun for telling it like it is, for sticking it to ‘em. The world has its share of neurasthenic morons, and it appears that India has more than its fair share. India has more of everything, as fervent nationalists will assure you. Unfortunately, that includes millions of people who will instinctively drop to their worshipful knees anytime anyone makes a strong statement, irrespective of its content. The archetypal fascist strongman is eternally awaited, whether he does God’s work like Seshan or is merely scrounging for votes. Maybe it’s time for another satyagraha. One about truth, which the original strongman of India, the real Gandhi, would have supported.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine.