Friday, August 21, 2009

it was never about jinnah! we desperately needs demon!

Two things at the outset – I haven’t read Jaswant’s book (who has?) and I am not interested in the internal ideological gymnastics within the BJP-RSS conglomerate. So please don’t expect me to assess whether Rajnath is right or Jaswant is, and whether the BJP’s current position on disowning Jaswant’s admiration of Jinnah is in sync with Advani’s profuse praise of the Qaid-E-Azam at the Minar-e-Pakistan the last time he was there. I can’t understand the acrobatic agility of the party’s ideology, and have quite given up trying to make any sense out of it.
Now, having got that out of the way, I want to get back to what engaged me to comment on this. “I think we have misunderstood him (Jinnah) because we needed to create a demon... We needed a demon because in the 20th century the most telling event in the subcontinent was the partition of the country,” says Jaswant. Well, fair enough. Irrespective of what you think of Jinnah – and am not a diehard fan of either Nehru or Jinnah, so I am not arguing the who-was-responsible case here – I don’t think it is about we needing a demon in this particular context. We need demons, period.

In the world where Bollywood scripts are churned out, the scriptwriter is faced with the fundamental question in maybe eight out of ten scripts that ever get to the production stage – which character will play the villain? You need a villain to make a good movie. Not that Hollywood is very different. Or any good story, for that matter. Where would the Mahabharata be without Duryodhana and the Ramayana without Ravana? How can the hero be a hero unless the anti-hero is there to provide the contrast and to shoulder the blame for all the mess? Of course, not all anti-heroes can be as mass-appeal evoking as SRK in Baazigar or as definitive as the Joker in the Batman movies, but that’s another story. In the larger, real world, where stories of drama, pain and conflict, involving thousands or millions are shaped and structured, especially where defining events are accompanied by large-scale costs in human suffering, demons are absolutely integral to the subsequent presentation of things. Of course a lot went wrong – and this guy did it!

The idea of fixing a name to the episodes where people behave like beasts or are slaughtered like them is perhaps a cathartic one. Who was the demon of WWII? Adolf Hitler. Who was the demon of post war Europe? Josef Stalin. Who was the demon of the Middle East? Saddam. Who is the current demon of the civilised world? Osama. Everyone else’s accountability is washed away, when we can pin massive chaos and death to a single name, and isn’t that a nice thing? Socially, when we look back at horrendous events, oppressive regimes, massacres and things that make us retch and consider if the “nasty, brutish and short” paradigm of life is the only consistent one, we need to pin the blame somewhere, to take it off the collective conscience. Politically, regimes that take extreme positions on issues find demons very handy. Nothing pushes up a government’s ratings quicker than taking on the bad guy and saving the world from him. The US – since its leaders have needed those ratings to stay on in power – has been saving the world from a lot of demons, for instance. During the war, it was Hitler. After the war, it was Stalin, Khruschev, whosoever – Reagan fighting the Evil Empire. Close home, it was Fidel. Ayatollah Khomeini. Saddam. Kim Jong-Il. Osama Bin Laden. Etc, etc, etc. The slot has rarely been left vacant. These are, of course, the top league, but the ‘lesser’ ones closer home for us are aplenty too. Who is the demon of Mumbai? Dawood or Balasaheb, depending where you see it from (Raj just doesn’t have the stature yet, though he tries). Who is the demon of Bihar? Nah, no prizes for guessing that one, too easy, it shouldn’t even be on the list. Who was the demon of the sandalwood belt? Veerappan. Prabhakaran would be top league for us too, but it needs to be remembered that he shifted from ally to demon status only after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. One could go on and on. So far as Jinnah goes, he is not the only leader who can be judged afresh in the light of the was-he-guilty-was-he-not perspective. These things have changed and been repositioned depending on who calls the shots. Beyond the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, we have had a fairly grey zone and a lot of selective memory in terms of deciding who our saints and demons should be. But that is to be expected in a culture where Ravana is a demon in the North and is close to a deity in portions of the South – we pick and choose our demons depending on which side our instincts and roots go. I also think that the Indian need for demons is higher than many other cultures given that we need to play out the Dussehra exercise of effigy burning all the time at a more decentralised level by burning effigies of anyone from Obama to Osama to Greg Chappell to the neighbourhood politician whenever we are aggrieved. No hate-able enough demons, ergo, no effigies to burn. How boring! Jinnah is hardly the only politician who has ‘not been given his due’ – which is not to say I believe that he was a great man or agree with Jaswant. Patel is someone who hasn’t been given his due, even by Jaswant, from the very skeletal info I have about his book, though I daresay today it is politically incorrect to talk of the “Gujarati strongman” since it gives Narendra Modi a legacy to inherit. Subhash Bose was viciously abused by a wide spectrum of people, including the Congress and the Communists and was well on his way to Demon status at one point – Fascist stooge and what not. On his birth centenary, I was thoroughly confused and read a piece on the TOI’s edit page asking how come 1) the Congress seemed to fall in love with him and wanted to reappropriate him as a Congressman all of a sudden, 2) the BJP was lashing out at the Congress for not giving him his due and describing him as a great leader, and 3) Jyoti babu was giving speeches saying how the Left was wrong in not realising what a great man Bose was. I mean, how could he have a political ideology that appealed to the Congress, the BJP and the Communists all in one go? The INA was affiliated to neither, last I checked. But that was perhaps Bose’s moment of de-demonisation, to coin a phrase. He was suddenly no longer a proper demon. There are many other instances of transitional phases where it has been cool to slam someone and subsequently ‘rediscover’ them. Perhaps it is too much to aspire for everlasting Demonhood, in a world of constantly changing affiliations. One random observation before closing this – you have to have that sharp edge to your individuality, a stubborn streak, a headstrong temperament, to make it to the list. Gentle agreeable leaders don’t ever get there. A Narasimha Rao, an IK Gujaral, a Manmohan Singh can be criticised and attacked – but they never run the risk of being demons in history books, no matter who writes the official history. Two interesting things, though. The US has never found a demon in Pakistan, where staging coups and establishing military regimes and creating nuclear programmes or such is supposedly pretty ok as things go – but if you do the same in North Korea, or much less in Cuba, you are promptly a Demon with a capital D. Perhaps there could be a process of formal demonification (the way the Vatican does the beatification and anoints you a saint, the flip version of that?). It would be so much fun. The UN’s Ethics Panel or some such thing voting to formally confer Demon status on X, Y and Z. And the casting vote rests with the US prez. The second interesting thought that comes to mind is that while we have a name and a face as official demon to affix to almost every large scale death inflicted on man by man in the recent past, in all the years of school, college and life after that, I don’t recall anyone being anointed as a demon for the definitive moments of death by human hands – Hiroshima and Nagasaki.