In George Orwell’s thickly laid parable the cleverest animal is the pig which after chasing away the owner, Mr. Jones, takes over the farm. Hence the slight alteration in the commandment the pigs make, ‘Some animals are more equal than others’ which had been quoted quite often. The pigs have been conferred this exalted ranking, but not always. When he was asked about his country’s relations with China, the legendary Vietnam leader Ho Chi Minh is reported to have commented, ‘We have been neighbours with China for over 1,500 years. We know how the pig stinks.’ The son of a pig is curse word in certain parts of the North India and for certain faiths ham is forbidden, as beef is to others. The only food that is not contentious, cutting across faiths, is the fowl, according to one culinary authority, the head chef at 10, Downing Street during the regime of Tony Blair.
The Soviet writer and poet Konstantin Fedin commented acidly that he would crush the dissident Nobel laureate writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn like a Colorado beetle. There are others who have expressed similar strong feelings. If you see a Brahmin and snake kill the former first used to be the refrain during the height of the Dravidian movement of Periyar Ramaswami Naikar in the thirties in Tamil Nadu. Variations of this existed in Maharashtra and there have been other colourful improvisations as well.
Times change and what was once forbidden comes out of the closet and attains respectability. Trades have been graded at one time, and certain ones have been looked down upon. Barbers, surgeons and painters, for instance were looked down upon by the gentry in France during the seventeenth century and had been relegated to the category of untouchable professions. So much so respectable ladies were taught only sketching, and were not allowed to dabble in paint. Orwell had a whole essay dwelling on the subject on how the working classes smell. No wonder the most advertised product and the fastest selling one as well, on television is the deodorant. It is not just that the working classes alone smell though they sweat, but the well-heeled ones, who do not sweat, too emit odours, as can be evident sometimes in elevators, foyers and closed academic lecture halls, all of which are air-conditioned. Certain terms referring to trade too have been on the proscribed, like the term for cobbler, or for those who handle animal hide. In certain states if these terms are uttered that might land the person in jail. There is now a move to have the word Dalit abolished.
Coming to the lesser species, the termite is an insect that has many hidden shadows and there could be even some spiritual dimensions to it. For instance, when a termite enters the mind it can pose many challenges, according to an academic. ‘The symbolism of termites is social interaction, group strength, nesting behaviour, building and distraction,’ he says. So persistent are the termites they can burrow into the crevices, in the woodwork, or can bore through even the sturdiest of oak trees. The termites can fight in the beaches, in the forests and any other terrain, as the Britons did at one time. These can also be present on the borders of the country and no barbed wire or walls can prevent their intrusion. So when the president of the ruling party mentions that termites pose a threat to the country and they should be prevented through a bit of paper work like the National Register of Citizens (NCR) he has not understood the full implications. Perhaps he is only playing on the fears of these intrusions and how his party alone has been seized of the matter.
If termites have this utility value at least during election time, there is the other species, the cretin, for instance that has been the favourite of the early Marxists. Probably Trotsky used it first and it was in the working class lexicon for a long time. The cretin means ‘a stupid person’ and is used as a general term of abuse, a person who is physically deformed and has learning difficulties due to congenital thyroid deficiency. There are the other favourite epithets of Marxists like running dogs of imperialism, capitalist lap dog, and other canine associations that can lend to interesting conjectures. When Modi was asked about a certain encounter death, he commented that when a car is passing a puppy might get run over unfortunately. The Americans used to call it collateral damage.
From his lofty perch a distinguished academic recently lamented the loss of stable referents to describe the tenor of our times and he picked on cretin as not a bad choice. This is the age of moral and political cretinism, he proclaimed, when politics seems immune to any of the normal moral sensibilities, when there is total inversion of values to the point of their getting immobilised. Thus the ordinary values that are cherished, like pity, compassion, sympathy, civility, are supplanted by the new credo of attributes like indifference, pitilessness, incivility and antipathy. Those who indulge in lynching, for instance, get more political mileage and protection than the victims and those perpetrating the most violent sexual behaviour find the best legal minds to defend them.
There is another word for such behaviour described above, for the barbarian, philistine, savage, lout, hoodlum, hooligan, brawler, bully boy; and that is yahoo, the word coined by Swift in his Gulliver’s Travels in the 18th century to describe an imaginary race of brutish creatures. Swift was also Orwell’s favourite author. It is not surprising that this is the most common word in vogue now and without which we cannot even communicate.
It is during election time that such expletives gain more currency, and for the past few years every other month has been election time at some place or the other. Even the elections a year away has been providing grist. Interestingly there comes a crystallising issue during an election and this cannot be predicted. This happens all on a sudden, as in the Rajiv Gandhi elections in 1988. There were many contentious issues at that time, like the Shah Banu case, the opening of the Babri gates, and the IPKF disaster in neighbouring Sri Lanka. But what provided traction was none of these but the Bofors deal for the field guns from Sweden and that proved his undoing. Now also despite many issues being debated and challenged, the Rafales combat aircraft deal with France seems to be providing the critical mass.
Rahul Gandhi's latest barb at the Prime Minister on the Rafale deal, delivered with the promise that ‘the fun has just begun’, had a furious BJP flinging back calling it a ‘shame’.
Speaking to the social media in his constituency of Amethi, Rahul Gandhi said, ‘The man who came to remove corruption has himself given Rs. 30,000 crore to Anil Ambani. The fun has just begun; things are set to turn more interesting. In the next two-three months you will have fun after we will show you Modi's work - Rafale, Vijay Mallya, Lalit Modi, Demonetisation, Gabbar Singh Tax.’ Rahul continued, ‘All of it is theft. One by one, we will show that Modi ji is not a chowkidar (gatekeeper), but a chor (thief).’
Modi had accused Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar of giving ‘supari’ (contract) while on a visit to Pakistan to get him ‘removed’ from the way to ensure peace between India and that country. Targeting the diplomat-turned politician after his ‘neech aadmi’(lowly person) jibe at him earlier, Modi alleged that the Congress tried to suppress this episode and did not take any action. These remarks come a day after Aiyar set off a firestorm when he called Modi a ‘neech kism ka aadmi’. The Congress promptly suspended Aiyar from the party’s primary membership and issued him a show cause notice.
Attacking the Congress over its work culture, Modi alleged that the party believes in ‘atkana’ (to stall) ‘latkana’ (to keep the issue hanging) and ‘bhatkana’ (to divert an issue).
‘He gave this ‘gaali’ (abuse) to me or you? Did he abuse me or Gujarat? Did he abuse the cultured society of India or me?’ Modi asked.
‘But, after I became prime minister, this man (Aiyar) went to Pakistan and met some Pakistanis. At that meeting, he is seen discussing with Pakistanis that ‘jab tak Modi ko raste se hataya nahi jata’ (until Modi is not removed from the way), relationship between India and Pakistan cannot improve.
‘Ever since I came into politics in 2001, you (the Congress) have used all your strength to hurl abuses at me. There would not be a single abuse left in the dictionary now. However, the more mud you throw, the more the lotus bloomed,’ Modi was quoted as saying.
In 2007, he recalled that the then Congress President had used the phrase ‘maut ka saudagar’ (merchant of death) against him when was chief minister, and a few years later her son had accused him of indulging in ‘khoon ki dalali’ triggering a massive controversy. These worked for the party’s benefit. To rub it in Modi had said the 140-year-old party was unable to digest the fact of a chaiwala or the son of a poor farmer attaining power.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said nothing else could be expected from a leader whose ‘entire family’ is buried in scams. ‘It's a matter of shame for the Congress that a person like Rahul Gandhi, who is irresponsible and is a liar, is their president. We can't expect anything else from a leader whose entire family is buried in scams, be it Bofors or the National Herald.’
Cretins, pigs, termites, puppies, the menagerie of Indian political lexicon seems to be not lacking in animals to describe its lawmakers. For the land of Panchatantra that should not come as a surprise. The elections might get over and whichever way the parties fare, the residual effects would linger for some more time.