Monday, August 10, 2015
In political terms it was something of a sensation, unprecedented and, till now, unimaginable: Sonia Gandhi took part in a public demonstration, shouting slogans with gusto, raising her arm, fist clenched, to stab the air for emphasis. It was as though she had begun, not at the top, but at the level of a Youth Congress agitator working her way up through street practice and lathi charges.
Only days earlier a different sort of sensation had taken place at the same spot on Parliament grounds. This time it was the ruling BJP that staged a public protest. In response to Congress MPs demanding the resignation of corrupt BJP leaders, now BJP MPs demanded the resignation of corrupt Congress leaders.
The irony did not go unnoticed. Both the groups staged their shows in front of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, a man who would punish close associates like J.B.Kripalani for the smallest lapses concerning the tiniest sums of money. Ironic, too, was ruling MPs protesting outside the House against opposition MPs protesting inside the House. Taunted an opposition leader: The almighty of the country, supposed to run the House -- To whom are they sending demands?
Seven decades of democracy find us in a situation of the almighty vs others. The consolation is that the roles seem interchangeable. The almighty of only a year ago is now shouting slogans against the almighty of today. The Congress demonstration, however, yielded for posterity photographs of historical importance. A close look provides glimpses into the body language, the gestures, the facial expressions and the general drift of today's Congressmen.
Sonia Gandhi is, of course, the focus of all the photographs. She radiates confidence and happiness reflecting the infallibility she enjoys in the Congress. She knows that if she points to the mid-day sun and says it is the moon, Congressmen will say in chorus, "The moon, the moon".
Rahul Gandhi is the other personification of total confidence. He does not shout or wave his arm in protest. He knows he does not have to prove his loyalty to anyone. People like Anand Sharma provide examples of the opposite kind. In some photos he is somewhere at the back. In others he has come to the row immediately behind Sonia, no doubt pushing himself forward for attention. That, after all, is what politics is all about.
K.Antony is of a different kind. Examine the pictures and we can see Sonia taking Antony's arm and drawing him closer to her side. But looming behind Antony is Gulam Nabi Azad with his two arms dangling loosely over Antony's shoulders. A photographer out to capture the long and short of politics could not have arranged his subjects more imaginatively, the top of Antony's head dramatically below the bottom of Azad's chin. Now we know why the North is always head and shoulders above the South in Delhi's perception.
But the most impressive figure in all the photographs is Manmohan Singh, immovable, impenetrable and changeless. He is like Parliament House itself; terrorists may attack, whole sessions may get washed out, but those massive pillars stand there motionless, soundless -- like Manmohan Singh. In fact, during the twin demonstrations, Mahatma Gandhi's face looked more expressive by comparison.
Is it time to give the Mahatma some respite? Just because an imposing statue of his stands guard on Parliament grounds, it does not mean that his peace should be disturbed by MPs who want to score points over other MPs. If the bedlam they create inside the House is not enough for them, why not have a less hallowed spot for purposes of competitive slogan shouting? Perhaps the car park. Perhaps the entrance steps which will have the added advantage of stopping brother MPs from entering or exiting.
In London's Parliament Square, featuring several statues including one of Gandhi, demonstrations are illegal. In fact the British have successfully kept London free of traffic-stopping demonstrations by developing the Hyde Park Corner as a venue for any protestor to protest about anything under the sun.
Our Jantar Mantar comes pretty close to that concept. Couldn't the MPs go there and hold their protests and leave the Mahatma alone? They might consider it infradig to protest at a spot where every Tom, Dick and Hazare protests. But they can regain their VIP status by returning to Parliament and having a chicken biriyani subsidised by the poor. The game is always the same: Either MPs win and the people lose, or people lose and MPs win.