Age of suicide as politics by other means

Politicians are not known for keeping their promises, so why would Karnataka sports minister Goolihatti Shekar keep his word?


Suresh Menon | September 28, 2010

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours - on the wall -
/Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
The strangest whim has seized me...
After all I think I will not hang myself to-day.

- G K Chesterton, A Ballade of Suicide

Indian politicians have moved beyond the bandh, the satyagraha, the gherao, the sit-in and other means of blackmailing their own government into the realm of the personal. Murder as a political weapon has existed for some years although few murderers have actually got their comeuppance. But such weapons as murder, rape, destruction of buildings, swallowing of money meant for relief measures etc are used against others. They usually leave the perpetrator without a scratch on himself. All that is set to change now.

With Karnataka sports minister Goolihatti Shekar we enter the age of suicide as politics by other means. A scratch will be the least of his problems.

When a reshuffle ruffled Shekar, who was expected to be dropped from the Karnataka cabinet, that worthy went public with his plan. “I have shed my sweat and energy in installing the first BJP government in south India,” he declared. “If the chief minister wants to reshuffle the ministry by dropping me, it can happen only over my dead body,” said this independent member of the house. Sweat-shedding and energy-sapping contributions to governance must be respected, but don’t line up to sign a petition for posthumous awards for Shekar because somehow I suspect he will outlive all of us.

He wants to “send a strong message to those who betray people.” Presumably he means his boss and not himself. Unlike most people on the verge of death who claim to see their past life flash before their eyes, politicians who threaten to kill themselves tend to see their future lives flash.

By the time you read this, one of the following would have happened: (a) the chief minister might have decided that non-shuffle is the better part of discretion and decided to keep his sports minister alive. (b) The reshuffle might have taken place with Shekar in the new ministry. (c) The reshuffle might have taken place without Shekar in the new ministry. (d) Shekar might have killed himself. (e) Shekar might have put on a few kilos around his middle as a result of being alive and being a politician. (f) The sports minister might have been crying from rooftops that he was misquoted, and that it was all a media conspiracy.

Betting is not legal in India, at least betting on apparently suicidal sports ministers isn’t, so I cannot offer you odds on his being among those present a week, a month, a year, ten years from now.

Suicide is the only ‘crime’ that is punished if it is unsuccessful. Successful acts get away scot free. Shekar could, of course be charged under Section 309 of our penal code (‘attempt to commit suicide’). If the chief minister gives in, then a threat is as good as a deed, and what’s a few weeks in jail for such high principles as remaining in office?

The last person in Karnataka politics to threaten to kill himself was former chief minister Kumaraswamy who said he would cut his wrists if he or members of his family were shown to have plots of land near a major project. The media obligingly published the details of such ownership, but no wrists were slit. Perhaps the special wrist-slitting knives had been sold out in the market. Perhaps it was an inauspicious year for the act. But somehow, although slashing the wrists is a popular way to kill oneself, that promise lacked the impact of the word ‘suicide’.

One is loath to make fun of death and killing, however silly the political narrative, but irresponsible statements call for reactions. Politicians are not known for keeping their promises, so why should they now decide to follow through on their threats?

Any spin doctor will advise Shekar that he should say he had been misquoted and what he actually said was, “I am going to sue this side,” speaking of the BJP, and was misunderstood.

Or he could claim that the idea of committing suicide upset him and so he could not be held responsible for what he said.

Reshuffles can be traumatic. What if the chief minister had responded in similar vein, saying, “He will commit suicide over my dead body?” The mind boggles.



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