When Anna Hazare’s campaign was raging in India last year, critics of the movement spelt out their discomfort with it even while agreeing on the need for an anti-graft legislation.
This section of the civil society argued against that section – comprising one-time fellow-travellers – making their draft of the Bill, a non-negotiable instrument. Parliamentarians across parties rightly contended that the task of making laws was their prerogative and it could not be coerced into either circumventing the parliamentary process or accepting the draft prepared by a private group.
In April, Mamata Banerjee turned into the Queen of Spades and wanted the heads of cartoonists and those who circulated it on the Internet. At that time, this blog had argued against rejection of humour and recapitulated Francis Ford Copolla’s quip to Capitol Hill’s criticism of Apocalypse Now.
The political farce enacted over a 62 year old cartoon that has been part of a NCERT book for five years has shown that Hazare and Banerjee are not alone in their intolerance. It has also shown that the political class as a whole does not have the guts to stand up for principles in the face of unreasoned championing of popular causes. Historians and scholars will shudder at the following assertions:
“Dr BR Ambedkar was the only person who made this Constitution, without any support of the Drafting Committee…”
“Samvidhaan ki dhajjiyaan urhai ja rahee hai” (The Constitution is being smashed to smithereens).
The statements were made by two honourable Members of Lok Sabha – Thol Thirumaavalavan and Shailendra Kumar of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and Samajwadi Party. Others who added to the din in Lok Sabha were not identified as it was not on record.
So what was the outcome of this demagoguery? HRD minister Kapil Sibal came back to the House after the disruptions and declares that government had almost a fortnight ago (on April 26) written to the NCERT making it clear that the ministry after examining the issue had found it “advisable to withdraw the cartoon from the NCERT Textbooks.”
There is silence on why the cartoon had been allowed to be part of the Textbook for all of five years. There is also no word if the ministry is examining other cartoons or other portions in that Textbook or in any other book. There is also no word if the government is considering any pre-emptive action to prevent recurrence of similar incidents if any other group finds material objectionable to their icons.
The removal of the cartoon by Shankar is symptomatic of the culture of intolerance that is gripping Indians politics. Previously the spirit of intolerance was synonymous to majoritarianism but has in the past two decades become a powerful tool in the hands of self-professed representatives of the underprivileged sections of society.
Government has demonstrated itself to be weak-kneed and incapable of taking a principled position on the Ambedkar cartoon issue. It is reminiscent of the buckling down by Rajiv Gandhi’s government on the Shah Bano judgement in 1985. The civil society has no option but to steer clear of the system that does not have courage to stand by the principles it wishes its appointees to follow.