As the story goes, an anatomy professor once asked his class to ‘name the part of the human anatomy that can expand to eight times its normal size’. A student in the first row blushed and protested at such a question being asked in a mixed class. The professor reprimanded the student for not properly studying anatomy lessons. He added that the student not only had a dirty mind but was going to be terribly disappointed in life. He explained, ‘the part of the human anatomy that expands to eight times its normal size’ was not what the student assumed but the eye ball. A parenthetical note: whether this is a true or an apocryphal anecdote, there is no insensitivity about asking such questions in medical schools as students of both sexes should familiarize themselves with all parts of human anatomy.
The reason for recounting the medical school anecdote is to put the brouhaha over Narendra Modi’s remark about a puppy run over by a car in its proper context. Asked in an interview with Reuters, how he felt about the tragic loss of human lives in the Gujarat 2002 riots, he replied that ‘if a puppy were to come under the wheels of his car, even if someone else was driving it, he would be pained’. This innocuous remark sent our commentariat into delirium. They analysed each word, comma and pause. They analysed his tone, pitch and inflexion. They did not stop there. They began looking for hidden meanings and concealed metaphors.
It is quite common for literary commentators to look for hidden meanings in the works they are panning and not uncommon for them to read their own meanings into a given context. As an example take a look at Shakespeare’s works and their criticism. All his plays and all his sonnets might be accommodated in one shelf but the criticism of his works fills a whole library.
The army of Congress spokespersons and their fellow travellers in the media wanted to find out if the ‘P’ word was an indirect reference to the ‘M’ word. Like literary critics they would find out if it did. Like literary critics they would read it into it even if it didn’t. Congress selects its spokespersons based on their ability to turn on verbal diarrhoea at will. An important, common trait both the Congress spokespersons and their fellow travellers in the media share is a visceral hatred for Narendra Modi.
One of those Congress spokespersons who is given to letting his tongue loose to the extent of indecency in television debates, has a dubious history. His family came to India as refugees at the time of India’s partition. As he had high political connections this side of the border too, he was able to go to premium schools in India and college in England. While being there, he did something odd. In 1962 when India was forced into a war with China, he organized a fund-collection not for India but for funding the Chinese onslaught. In a saying it is called biting the hand that feeds; in plain English it is called treason. After returning to India he applied for the civil services examination. There is usually a police check for recruitment into such services. His conduct in England would have disqualified him in any other democratic country. In his favourite China it would have earned him death penalty. However his high political connections came to his rescue, again. He rose to the highest levels in the service and after retirement joined the Congress party. His lifelong loyalty to the dynasty (despite pretensions to being an intellectual) earned him many coveted positions. He used to write a column in a (now defunct) magazine edited at one time by a chaprasi of Nira Radia. A literary critic panning his work would have summed it up as graffiti written in elegant prose! Now he writes for another magazine in which he panned Narendra Modi’s puppy remark. True to his ‘graffiti reputation’, the piece was titled ‘Shame Shame Puppy Shame’. The group of four words (it is not even a phrase) is not to be found in any English dictionary. It is not even found in what is pejoratively referred to as Indian English. It is a school-boy taunt of the pre-English-medium-school days. See to what level the national political debate is lowered!
Here is a real English saying that sums up the attributes, which a human being wishes to be known for: ‘a good man, kind to animals and respected by all’. If one were to objectively analyse Modi’s answer, one would have understood that he tried to convey the anguish that a man feels when human lives are lost.
Modi tried to put the secularism – pseudo-secularism debate in its proper context. It was ignored. It is the character of a political ambience that calls a riot in which 32% of the lives lost were of Hindus (254 Hindus as against 790 Muslims), ‘a pogrom’ and ‘a genocide’; while willfully ignoring the reduction of 400,000 Hindu Kashmiri Pandits to the status of refugees in their own country.
Modi’s development agenda was scoffed at. But they latched on to his assertion that there is no contradiction between Hinduism and nationalism. A few years ago, a secular icon, Omar Abdullah said virtually the same thing: ‘I am a Muslim and I am an Indian. There is no contradiction between the two.’ We are a strange nation in which the constitutional amendment that inserted the word secularism in the pre-amble can’t even be applied to Omar Abdullah’s state. Yet anything Omar Abdullah says is unreservedly believed. Every word Narendra Modi utters is dissected.
It is the India versus Bharat debate!