By Sushil Kutty
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.” – Lewis Carroll
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not Humpty Dumpty and even if we all have the brains to make out what he chose to mean with “takes me back to Ramayana serial days”, it wouldn’t be right for anyone to read his mind without him telling us, “Yes, that is right, that is what I meant.”
For that matter, we do not know what Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury was cackling at, why? Now, there is a row over the crackle over cackle, and it behoves us to be fair to both even if the Congress and the BJP are now advancing their respective political agendas with this episode of one of the many gripping Rajya Sabha serials brought to us by Rajya Sabha Television (RSTV).
Members of Parliament are not given handcuffs when they are nominated or elected and ‘MP’ doesn’t break down to ‘Military Police’, but after the ‘Ramayana in Rajya Sabha’, some Congress MPs are pulling out handcuffs and seeking arrests, so to speak, possibly that of PM if he admits that he meant Shoorpanaka when he spoke of the Ramayana serial and, with more assertion, that of Minister of State for Home Kiran Rijiju for posting a video of a segment of the Ramayana serial with the cackle and the witch on Facebook.
With that Rijiju let the cat out of the bag but even he cannot pin it on PM Modi because Modi kept his statement in the Rajya Sabha gender-neutral unless we arrive at the conclusion that ‘Ramayana’ has a gender, in this instance the ‘female’. Gender as the knowing ones know is a weapon, in the hands of men, to be used against other men with the excuse everybody should be fair to the fair. The man labelled ‘sexist’ has a hard time – harangued at every turn, reminded he’s a lowlife every morning and blasted with prime time bad press in the evening. He gets a tongue lashing from every woman and, if he is famous or notorious, killed in the media-court. He can neither hide, nor run. Try to! The manhunt that follows will be countrywide, International. Cameras will hound him till he will be babbling Yin and Yang gibberish!
The left-of-centre Congress wants to put PM Modi in the same category of United States President Donald Trump – allegedly misogynist, bigot and homophobic. The Indian mainstream media has so far not got to that stage with Modi. They are MIA – missing in action – for now. But given the slightest chance, they will be out like warts to take an ugly swing at the Prime Minister and see him break out in boils.
PM Modi on Wednesday was spontaneous, spur of the moment, witty, deliciously sarcastic and funny – no mean feat after an hour-and-a-half of being hooted at in the Lok Sabha – jokingly fair, asking Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Nadu to “not stop Renukaji” because this was the first time in years, after a long time, that he has had the privilege of being reminded of the Ramayana serial days. Renukaji’s non-stop cackle couldn’t get on his nerves. So exonerate her, please!
Everybody knows “Renukaji” – she’s feisty, ebullient, talkative, intelligent and aggressive. But her laughter in the House on Wednesday was not a polite laugh. It wasn’t a loud guffaw. It was a relentless cackle that begged the Naidu question, “What’s wrong with you?”, and the Naidu suggestion, “Go see a doctor.” The cackle set nerves on edge. It was ugly to the ear. It did not set the right tone for a speech. And it had in it the power to time-transport people to the long-gone Ramayana serial days – during the telecast of which roads emptied and chatterbox barbers stopped snipping – and Modi is also ‘people’.
PM Modi’s ready wit, quick repartee, served the purpose – it cut short the cackle. The rest of Modi’s speech went off without incident. Not even a chuckle interrupted the flow of words. But speech over and Renuka and the Congress were smarting. By the next morning, Ramayana was Mahabharata! Renuka Chowdhury was Draupadi. PM Modi was Duryodhyana and Kiran Rijiju another one of the ‘101 sons’.
The Congress came out all guns blazing, handcuffs dangling, demanding an apology. Renukaji spoke of the unbecoming gender-bashing PM and threatened Rijiju with a privilege motion. Congress spokesperson and erstwhile actor Khusboo Sundar insisted Modi should reveal who he was pointing to when he raised Ramayana in the Rajya Sabha.
The drift was not hard to get to: The PM was ‘ungendermanly’ by a yard and more, and there was enough rope to hang him with. Renuka is a woman, not a man, and definitely not a witch. Khusboo’s demand was valid. The only hitch was Modi did not speak of any Ramayana character, which or witch! He just voiced his nostalgia for Ramayana Serial Days. But for Rijiju’s Facebook video, nobody would be comparing Shoorpanaka’s cackle with Renuka’s cackle. There wouldn’t have been even a chuckle to buckle the lips.
Rijiju should have left the identity to everybody’s imagination. If only, because the Congress is so focused on identity-politics, it cannot think beyond race and gender, religion. To be productive human beings, membership to an identity club isn’t mandatory. That is not to say everybody in the Congress identifies with Renuka Chowdhury or finds her laughter music to the ear. The likes of fervent “avid” Congress leader Tehseen Poonawala found her “arrogance” appalling. Her “laughter in the Upper House” made Poonawala “squirm” and bracket Renuka with Mani Shankar Aiyar as a “liability to the party.”
That being said, Members of Parliament should avoid sarcasm and facetious remarks. If you submit a satiric comment, no matter how obvious the satire is to you, do not be surprised if people take it seriously. These are neither Ramayana nor Mahabharata days. These are dangerous gender-bender days. Remember men are from Mars and women are from Venus and never the twain shall meet without the sparks flying! (IPA Service)