One Nation, One Animal Farm

Animals continue to contribute immensely to Indian politics (and here I am not referring to the herds which congregate in resorts before a vote, or rush into the well of the House to drink deep of the Pyrean spring). I refer to the genuine, self respecting quadrupeds who are increasingly turning the country into one animal farm , and without whom our political menagerie cannot be complete. Let me explain.

Our obsession with quadrupeds started during Mr. Manmohan Singh’s time, when the “animal spirits” were let loose to give impetus to our industrial growth (and it worked too, with 7-8% growth every year). Then came the “caged parrot” observation by the Supreme Court about the CBI. Those were the good old days when nobody would have contemplated applying this phrase to the court itself, as some unkind people are wont to do nowadays. In any case the parrot looks more like a plucked chicken these days, but then who am I to intrude on a taxidermist’s domain ?

Then came the BJP’s Amrit Kaal and suddenly all manner of animals appeared on the political firmament. First was the Jallikattu bull in the Chinamma shop which turned out to be a lot of bull. Then came AAP leader Mr. Somnath Bharti’s dog who was accused of biting his wife, at his command. In the police station, however, the dog would only wag his tail, as Labradors are wont to do. Realising that this was a case of the tail wagging the dog the police had to perforce discharge Mr. Bharti. There was a rumour subsequently that the dog died of the bite but I have not been able to confirm this. Then Mr. Azam Khan’s buffaloes made headlines, allegedly stolen. The entire police force of the district was deployed to search for them, which ended when it was discovered that they had defected to the BJP, where they felt safer and had been promised tickets for the next election, in preference to the usual bipeds. This was quickly followed by a woman in U.P. (where else) alleging that a neighbour’s parrot had been hurling four letter abuses at her. She lodged an F.I.R, the parrot was taken to the police station and interrogated. But all it did was whistle, a gender neutral musical note, and had to be ultimately released for want of heard evidence. The police suspected that the neighbour, the parrot’s owner, was actually a ventriloquist but were unable to prove this.

A 6.5m-long bronze National Emblem cast unveiled by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the roof of the New Parliament Building, in New Delhi on 11th July,2022. Photo: ANI

I recount all this simply to stress that we have always been fascinated by animal tales, and to provide a context for the current, well, uproar about lions. There is more roaring going on in India these days than on the Serengeti plains or in Masai Mara, all about the four lions on the Asoka pillar. But it is time to paws and consider the matter dispassionately. Though Mr. Modi has been given the lion’s share of the blame, he cannot be faulted for this piece of carnivorous sculpture for there had been signs a plenty that he was about to let the cat out of the bag.

The only lions in India (if we discount the loins of Punjab) are in Gujarat- the Gir lions, and therefore Mr. Modi does have an Intellectual Property Right on them. It is only now that we are beginning to see why he has been consistently refusing to share the Gir lions with the rest of India and resisting their relocation elsewhere- he was keeping them for the Asoka pillar ! And he doesn’t like tigers as competition, either, which is why the Shiv Sena tiger has been reduced to a mewing cat and the Royal Bengal tigress quarantined in her own state.

This is the age of the 56 inch chest and the poor Ashokan lions with their regal gravitas have no place in today’s India. A muscular India has no place for a meditative or pacifist lion- after all, Sri Lanka has such a lion on its flag, and see where it has got them. A resurgent Naya Bharat will not brook a Simba, or a Disney lion, not even a politely growling Metro Goldwyn Meyer lion. No, sir, fangs, claws and a roaring demeanour are the flavour of the day and the new avatars atop Parliament convey this symbolism perfectly. The question, however, is: is this message being sent to China or our own citizens ? If the former then I hope the PM’s advisers have taken into account the aphorisms of ancient Confucian wisdom. One of them is: “A roaring lion kills no prey.” I’m sure President Xi Jinping has brushed up on his Confucius- why else would he continue to grin like a Cheshire cat through all this ? Somehow I feel that it will take more than a couple of snarling lions, regardless of the angle/ elevation from which Mr. Hardip Singh Puri views them, to deter the Chinese from building villages in Doklam or bridges on the Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh.

Meanwhile, of course, I continue to worry when the next upgrade to the Asoka Pillar will happen. Will it be after 2024, when the Parliament below it has been reduced to a purring kitten? And will the new heraldic symbol be the Bulldozer or the Sabre-toothed tiger, both perfectly appropriate to the times in their own ways?

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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