January 18, 2020
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Delhi Diary

Supposing, 2,00,000 of our citizens march into Jantar Mantar demanding regime change or immediate redressal of their grievances, how will the Indian state respond?

Delhi Diary

Through An Egyptian Mirror

Could it happen here? The leaderless revolution in Egypt has caused some anxiety locally over whether the wretched of our earth could come out to challenge their rulers. Conventional and unconventional wisdom has it that the answer is an emphatic no. We have a vibrant democracy, regular elections, a free media, an alert judiciary—all these checks and balances, it is fondly assumed, provide a safety valve through which the above-mentioned wretched can ventilate their frustrations. It is a cosy and comforting thesis but it needs to be tested. Not just to shake us out of complacency, but to force us to ask some hard questions.

One could in fact argue that it is already happening here. The injustices the protesters at Tahrir Square are raging about—corruption, no jobs, rising prices, appalling governance—are rampant in our blessed land. The tribal population of India, over three times the size of Egypt’s total population, lives daily with hardships ten times worse than those faced by the aam aadmi in Cairo. The per capita income in Egypt is four times the per capita income of adivasis in Dantewada. Moreover, under the influence of the Maoists, our destitute have taken up arms in a do-or-die struggle against the Indian state. Altogether, we are confronted with a situation infinitely more dangerous than the one prevailing in Egypt. Indeed, in contrast to the carnival and celebratory atmosphere in Tahrir Square, our deprived and desolate are waging a grim and violent battle. India is already at war with its own people. If you asked a bow-and-arrow-wielding woman to throw down her weapon because she possessed a wonderful thing called “democracy”, I shudder to think what her response would be.

Shining India, fortunately, does not have to watch pitched clashes outside the street on which it lives. However, unless we wake up, that prospect is fast approaching. Supposing, 2,00,000 of our citizens march into Jantar Mantar demanding regime change or immediate redressal of their grievances, how will the Indian state respond?

Attack as Defence

I must say I admire the chutzpah of the embroiled CVC, P.J. Thomas, as he fights a battle he seems guaranteed to lose. Given the pressure he must be under to quit, especially from the UPA government, one must applaud his tenacity and determination. His most recent defence will find resonance and sympathy in the country. Mr Thomas asked his Lordships in the Supreme Court that if chargesheeted MPs can sit comfortably in Parliament and make laws, why can’t a chargesheeted CVC do his job without hindrance? I have not been able to confirm whether Mr Thomas’s figure of 28 per cent of the members of the current Lok Sabha having serious criminal charges against them is accurate. But he can’t be far wrong.

Even if Thomas is forced to go, the question he has raised is of compelling urgency and relevance. It highlights the double standards of a system which does nothing about “criminal” MPs but is incandescent with rage over a “criminal” CVC having the temerity to insist he’s innocent till convicted.

’Tis a Funny Language Certainly

The latest Brit to have fun with Indian English is a Times (London) correspondent, Ben Macintyre. Mr Macintyre was invited to the Jaipur Literary Festival and on returning wrote a glowing column: “So far from being beholden to British culture, modern Indian literature is robustly independent, carving its own path in both letters and language. Most Indians no longer regard Indian-English as an imperial legacy, but as a thriving, evolving, national language in its own right.”

Nevertheless, he can’t help providing some “delights” of Indian-English: A hair-washing, he points out, is a “head-bath”. When a politician travels from one place to another, he’s always “airdashing”. Sexual harassment is “eve-teasing”. Couples without children are “issueless”. If a meeting is brought forward it is “preponed”. Crime reporting fascinates Ben. “Sleuths nab evil-doers” and “miscreants abscond” after committing “dastardly deeds”.

Macintyre quotes an apocryphal letter written by a Bengali in 1909 complaining about the lack of train toilets. “Just I doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with lotah in one hand and dhoti in the next when I fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women on platform.”

India, he says, “has adopted and adapted the old colonial tongue in an extraordinary process of reverse colonisation—and that is just super-duper.”

Lingering Blue Note

At Khushwant Singh’s 96th birthday party at his house, I drank for the first time the legendary Blue Label Scotch Whiskey, which in Delhi sells at Rs 15,000 a bottle. I took instructions on the correct procedure. I was told no ice, no soda, no water. Drink it straight, slowly. And savour. I did and had three shots (which is above my quota) because I was not sure I would get another chance. How was it? Good. How good? I am still making up my mind.

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