So what were the most indiscreet, absurd, ridiculous and dam foolish statements of 2018? Not that anything this year can overshadow the all-time record set by Mulayam Singh Yadav. Remember his justification of rapes on the ground that boys will be boys? He exposed his Stone Age mentality again when he said, “We should avoid the use of computers and English in India.”
The year that is passing did make an effort to keep up, ministers leading the pack. Anant Kumar Hegde said that Sanskrit would be the language of future supercomputers. Haryana minister Anil Vij added that Mahatma Gandhi’s image on currency notes brought about devaluation. This was mild compared to a 2008 comment by party colleague Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. His piece of wisdom was: “Women wearing lipstick and powder are the same as J&K terrorists.”
Religious rabidness being the fashion of the times, men in power took action that would otherwise have been irregular. The seasoned tactician Shivraj Singh Chauhan elevated five ordained sadhus to minister status and formally anointed them as Minister Babas. That his government fell in the election that followed is a different story. The fall also ended plans for sadhus and temple workers to collect metal for a 108-foot Statue of Wisdom a la the Statue of Unity in Gujarat.
Here are some other sayings of the year. Gujarat’s Chief Minister Rupani said Narad Muni was the original Google. Rajasthan’s then education minister Devnani said cows exhale oxygen. Former Uttarakhand chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said: “Science is a dwarf in front of astrology. We speak about nuclear science today. But Sage Kanada (Kashyapa) conducted nuclear test one lakh years ago.” Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh wants us to know that “the idea behind yogic farming is to empower the seeds with help from positive thinking.
We should enhance the potency of seeds by rays of paramatma shakti.” The one and only Biplab Deb of Tripura took up a different topic. He said, “In Mahabharata, Sanjaya was blind, but he narrated what was happening in the battlefield. This was due to internet technology. Satellites existed during that period.” (Sanjaya was not blind, by the way. His king Dhritarashtra was. Sanjaya had divya drishti, with which he could see events far away).
The Mughal period of Indian history is something our patriots would like to wish away. But not all Mughal rulers were bad. According to Madanlal Saini, president of BJP in Rajasthan, “when Humayun was dying he called Babur and said, ‘If you want to rule Hindustan, you must keep three things in mind—respect cows, brahmins and women.”
Bringing up the rear in 2018 was Kiren Rijiju, a minister who usually tries to strike a modernistic pose. According to him, “the population of Hindus in India is going down because they never convert people while minorities are flourishing.” Rijiju is in the Home Ministry. Why doesn’t he take steps to put a full stop to conversions? Why not also implement the Honourable MP Sakshi Maharaj’s proposal that “every Hindu woman must produce at least four kids to protect Hinduism.”
This year’s Ignoble Prize for absurd, fatuous, ridiculous statements must of course go to the faceless terrorists who dominate the social media with their reckless threats and warnings. A Carnatic music singer was called a traitor because he was scheduled to sing compositions about “gods of religions other than Hinduism”. Actor par excellence Naseeruddin Shah is being pilloried for criticising Hindutva extremism.
This is a man who did not even care to know what was his religion until admission problems made him join Aligarh Muslim University. He became a fish out of water there, too. His “crime” this time is that he criticised certain aspects of politics in his country. Like Yashwant Sinha does. Like Arun Shourie does. Like Shatrughan Sinha does. Like Shashi Tharoor does. But criticism from them is okay because their names do not have a Naseeruddin in them. This is unacceptable.
Will India get out of intolerance is the question 2018 leaves behind. The answer will come loud and clear as 2019 gets into stride. Threats to citizens with different opinions will either become the rule of life or a thing of the past depending on how the votes go in a few months from now. We have only one India, an India of multiple faiths, multiple languages, multiple food and dress cultures—Incredible India. Will the incredible retain its glory?
Happy New Year is not just a greeting this year but a prayer.