This last week has established that plumbing the depths of the ridiculous and the bizarre is not only our national pastime, it is also now the leitmotif of our society and ruling regime. The other day I decided I needed a “kurta”, not one of those fancy and expensive Myntra creations, but something more befitting a pensioner who has not received his last four DA instalments because his state govt. has decided to buy cowdung and cow urine with the money instead in order to win elections. So off I went to the local market; there were kurtas aplenty but only in one colour- yellow. The shopkeepers told me that they were “jajman” kurtas, in honour of the Ram Mandir consecration next week! Which explains why we should not be too hard on the Chief Justice of India for turning up in a saffron kurta at a temple recently- he really had no choice of colour. The fact that this was preceded by the Supreme Court delivering a couple of disappointing judgments in favour of the government was, of course, merely a coincidence.
Staying with the curious goings-on in Ayodhya, it appears that we now have a fifth Shankaracharya, located in Delhi- no wonder the original four are feeling threatened. The affairs of the Hindu faith shall no longer be conducted on the Collegium pattern but on the Master of the Roster model: there are no “Kaun Banega Crorepati” prizes for guessing who this gentleman is. But one has to admit he fully deserves his pre-eminent position for his sheer gall and inventiveness, and the ability to smoothly sail over contradictions: the inauguration of the new Parliament building last year, which was patently a political occasion, was effortlessly converted into a religious event, while the consecration of the Ram Mandir, which should be a purely religious ceremony, has been converted into a mega political event! Politics and religion have been seamlessly blended into one supreme individual, very soon the Shankaracharyas too shall be dispatched to the Marg Darshak Mandal which does appear to be getting a bit top heavy. Actually, the four genuine Shankaracharyas should never have entertained hopes of presiding over the Mandir consecration, for an “ubermensch” like our venerated PM, who has never let a single train be inaugurated by the Railway Minister or an Expressway by the Transport Minister, was certainly not going to allow this spiritual thunder to be stolen from him by a couple of sulking saints.
Or by a battered Constitution, for that matter, now on a ventilator under the Bharat Ayushman scheme. Article 370 may have been deleted in full public glare, but Article 27 (which prohibits the state from using the taxpayers’ money for the promotion and maintenance of any religion) has been given the quietus, well, quietly. The icing on the “prasad” is the government’s order declaring a half day holiday for all central govt. and PSU employees on the 22nd of January. By my calculations this shall cost the exchequer Rs. 250 crores. Expect these folks to go chanting Jai Shri Ram all the way to the local “theka” on the 22nd, and to the polling booth subsequently. I have no doubt that this holiday will now become an annual feature.
And suddenly Ayodhya has become the El Dorado for our own remora-like corporates who have a remarkable resemblance to this species of fish that hang about the jaws of sharks for the crumbs: land prices have tripled, plans have been launched to build hotels, condominiums, malls, airports, old age homes, homestays to cater to the 40 lakh visitors expected every month. One airline, which has a reputation for locking up its passengers in its planes and airbridges for hours on end and serving them a-la-carte meals on airport tarmacs, converted its Ayodhya flights into morality plays, dressing up its crew in Ramayan costumes: the pilot became Ram, Sita and Laxman received the boarding passengers at the gate. There was no sign of Hanumanji-he was probably on another mission to set on fire that other impudent island which had the temerity to mock God’s chosen One. The Disneyfication of Ayodhya is almost complete. Wait for Akshay Kumar a.k.a Akhand Kumar to make his next movie on it, just as soon as he finishes his prolonged genuflections to the powers that see, or for Amitav Bachchan’s next quiz show Kaun Banega Shankarcharya ?
All those who laboured for years to make the Ram temple happen will, of course, not be there: this is in the best traditions of the bird after which our country may well be named now- in cuckooland, after all, the real work is done by someone but the credit claimed by someone else. And so the likes of Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi will not grace the occasion, the poor labourers who have given their blood and sweat for its construction will be kept miles away, the worshippers of the temple will be outside while the usurpers will be inside. But for me the unkindest cut is the non-invitation to that flag bearer of nari shakti, if not nari bhakti, from my state- Kangana Ranaut. Ayodhya could have done with her oomph, and her temporary absence from Himachal would also have had the beneficial effect of slowing down the melting of the glaciers there. Methinks the BJP has missed a trick here- it could have used her scholarship in history to get her to revise the date of Independence once again, to 22nd January 2024. What about the earlier announced date of 2014?, you may well ask; well that would now become the year of the Quit Thinking movement. But I can understand the Supreme Leader’s quandary- even with all the AI tools at Mr. Amit Malviya’s disposal he would have had a tough time keeping the cameras focused on the fifth Shankaracharya once the Rampaging Ranaut entered the frame. Algorithms have their limitations too, you know. A.I may be artificial, but its not stupid.
|The author retired from the IAS in December 2010. A keen environmentalist and trekker he has published a book on high altitude trekking in the Himachal Himalayas: THE TRAILS LESS TRAVELLED.
His second book- SPECTRE OF CHOOR DHAR is a collection of short stories based in Himachal and was published in July 2019. His third book was released in August 2020: POLYTICKS, DEMOCKRAZY AND MUMBO JUMBO is a compilation of satirical and humorous articles on the state of our nation. His fourth book was published on 6th July 2021. Titled INDIA: THE WASTED YEARS , the book is a chronicle of missed opportunities in the last nine years. Shukla’s fifth book – THE DEPUTY COMMISSIONER’S DOG AND OTHER COLLEAGUES- was released on 12th September 2023. It portrays the lighter side of life in the IAS and in Himachal.
He writes for various publications and websites on the environment, governance and social issues. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla.
He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/