From today to the days before there were railways and YouTube, superstition and power have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. Both need scapegoats either to drive away the wrath of god, or to seek perpetuity in authority. Scapegoats are ideal vehicles to pass on sin, and distract god from delivering payback. The Old Testament Israelites were experts at the scapegoat protocol. The cleansing of their sins involved wreaking havoc on poor goats. On the Day of Atonement, the priest of the ancient Israelites deemed two goats sacrificial beasts. One called ‘The Lord’s Goat’ was slaughtered to please god. The other animal was named Azazel and driven away into the wilderness. The blood of the Lord’s Goat was sprinkled on the divine seat as an offering. The people’s sins were placed on the head of the Azazel goat, which was then dispatched to the desert, carrying all wickedness away.
Its doubtful whether sacked railway minster Pawan Bansal had heard of Yahweh’s bloodthirsty absolutions. The astrologers who advised him probably had their own version. When a video of the former minister and his wife feeding a white goat—reportedly to save his job—surfaced on YouTube, it got the people’s goat. Sensation-happy television channels showed astrologers speculating that the goat would be sacrificed on amavasya night. But the sins of the minister and his nephew did not get washed away as hoped for; instead, it was Bansal who became the Azazel goat, and was driven into political wilderness. It is yet to be seen how the CBI will be able to separate the black sheep from the goats, but one thing is clear—superstition is no match for retribution. The goat was the unkindest cut of all; although it did take time for UPA’s habitual scapegoat, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to butt Bansal out of his chair after the UPA’s high priestess intervened. Her belated interference may not prevent the dispensation from being skewered on the kebab sticks of 2014, but sacrificing Bansal (and Ashwini Kumar) is the party’s signal to the Prime Minister that economic astrology is not enough to save them from being dead meat.
Politicians are a superstitious lot. They desperately turn to the devices of astrologers and black magic quacks to help them come to power, or to retain it when adversity strikes. It is an appeal to a higher power, often using the most bizarre of methods. When the Yeddyurappa crisis erupted in Karnataka, black magic offerings such as buried animal bones and bloody incense were found on the Vidhan Soudha premises. Yeddyurappa was an astrology slave and an incessant temple buff—in the last year of his disgrace, he would rush off to seek divine arbitration from different temples: Vaishno Devi to Taliparamba temple in north Kerala. As chief minister, he had doled out largesse to places of worship and mutts, hoping god would save this bacon. He didn’t. God has better things to do than save corrupt politicians. Yeddy’s bête noire Sadananda Gowda sacrificed roosters at pujas. The legendary actor-turned-politician NT Rama Rao is reported to have worn saris at night to ward off the evil eye, presumably on the advice of a sartorially confused astrologer with a penchant for cross-dressing. Astrologers ruled the roost during Indira Gandhi’s time, and yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari was referred to as the Rasputin of Indira’s court. The infamous Chandraswami dominated the lives of two prime ministers—Mrs Gandhi and P V Narasimha Rao. In the corridors of power, you will find wandering many soothsayers, sorcerers and pundits who broker god’s will to desperate politicians.
It is the venal politician’s nature to corrupt everything he touches. But his attempts to corrupt god for personal ambition is a debasement of divinity. Can retribution be far behind?