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Batting those lashes

Backlash politics is a full-time business. Master suppliers like LK Advani and Mulayam Singh Yadav, however, find themselves confronting a demand crisis this time around.

india Updated: Mar 15, 2006 02:10 IST
Red Herring | Indrajit Hazra
Red Herring | Indrajit Hazra

The working schedules of professional backlash-wallahs are remarkably similar to that of journalists. Large chunks of the professional life of the latter are spent twiddling thumbs, chewing on pencil ends, waiting for a story and getting inspired by movies like All The President’s Men and, of late, Good Night, And Good Luck.

Then, as luck and life would have it, something happens and there’s a flurry of activity that effectively amounts to squeezing the proverbial lemon of an incident dry which gives the otherwise navel-gazing journo his street-cred — and salary.

In the world of reactionary politics, things are quite similar. Gents like Mulayam Yadav and L.K. Advani spend a large amount of time waiting, waiting, waiting. During these ‘non-interesting times’, they do their bit to stay alive in the headlines by either getting into a spat with their favourite political opponent or trot off to Pakistan and make bold, paradigm-twisting statements. But the truth is they are still not fulfilling their essential ‘reasons to be’.

Which is why when there’s some hullabaloo over Scandinavian cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammad in far-flung places whose locations are not known to too many people, Mulayam-ji gets galvanised into action. Suddenly, all that nitty-gritty about illegal Taj corridors and harbouring baddies in the party gets swept away and without having to rush in and out of a PCO booth, Mulayam-ji makes an appearance as the character that everyone knows him for: Minority Man. Being Chief Minister, he may not be the one demanding the Rs 51 crore bounty for the head of a Danish cartoonist, but it’s his minister who does the needful and as Minority Man, he gives the big- mouthed minister his blessings.

Which is also why when there are terrorist attacks in Varanasi, L.K. Advani joins the far-far-apart dots and concludes that this is a result of the UPA government’s age-old Muslim appeasement policy and their pusillanimous approach towards Islamic terrorists. (Yes, we all remember Advani’s colleague Jaswant Singh giving lessons to the Mossad about tackling hijackers during the NDA’s term in power.) And as if a buzzer on which he was sitting suddenly came alive, Advani announced that it’s time to take that rath out of the garage again. Hindus all across the country can’t bear the unfair softness the government shows towards Muslims anymore, you see.

The problem with backlashing is that, like an M. Night Shyamalan movie, you see a particular backlash once and you’re not going to be bothered about seeing it again. As the Left — as the undisputed heavyweight champion of reactionary politics — knows, there’s only that much you can do by playing it against Uncle Sam again and again and again. In the case of Messrs Mulayam Yadav and Advani, someone should tell them that we’re not in Kansas anymore. And by Kansas, I mean the heady old days when anti-anti-Islamicism and anti-appeasement were novelties (and, in cases, perceptions that had genuine and understandable roots in reality).

The backlash always waits for the lash. And if there’s none forthcoming, the idea is to jolly well create it. Lash-backlash politics is about playing around with causes and effects. German aggression caused World War II. Or was it the humiliating post-World War I Treaty of Versailles that led to German aggression that caused World War II? The US invasion of Iraq has led to greater Islamic terrorism across the world. Or was it the al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers on September 11 that led to an American reprisal against all things Islamic? The Godhra carnage led to the Gujarat riots. But was there a Godhra ‘carnage’ at all?

We, along with Mulayam and Advani, don’t live in a naive world where everyone passes up on an opportunity to shine in their self-fashioned field of expertise if possible harm can come out of it. But at the same time, cranking up the ‘victimhood’ motor — which is what backlashers play up when there’s the teeny-weeniest of signs — is fast losing its appeal when other people have day jobs.

Things were different in circa 1990 when there was genuine resentment against the then ‘secular’ government. Things were also different when people were herded behind the apron-strings of Mulayam and Lalu Yadav when Hindutva was fresh and dripping and when Muslims in post-Independent India had started to look around to find that a lot of other people were looking at them as ‘Muslims’ and ‘Muslims’ only.

I’m not saying that Hindu-Muslim — or capitalist-communist — confrontations are over for ever. It’s just that in circa 2006, the far too straightlined drawing up of causes and effects by the professional backlashers won’t cut ice. Not because the latest reasons for various backlashes are wrong. They are, but that’s never stopped them from picking up critical mass and momentum in the past. They won’t cut ice because there isn’t enough of a demand for backlash this time round.

Unlike these professional backlashers, the rest of us have day jobs that are keeping us busy. And the latest sleights of hand displayed by Mulayam and Advani have been sloppy. Barring a few nincompoops, we can all see the trap door behind ‘the girl being sawed in half’.

Right now, I’m afraid, the only cause-and-effect theory that has got things bang on is the one peddled by the National Egg Coordination Committee. Mixing the age-old query about whether the chicken or the egg came first with the recent scare about avian flu, the NECC ad states: “Indian chicken and egg both come first.”

Sounds like the best backlash message I’ve heard in a long time. And there’s something suspiciously secular about it too.

First Published: Mar 15, 2006 02:10 IST