Hungama over hamam humour

Modi said nothing wrong – and he’s the first to learn from the good doctor

ashishm

Ashish Mehta | February 15, 2017 | New Delhi


#Lok Sabha   #Rajya Sabha   #Raincoat Jibe   #Manmohan Singh   #Narendra Modi   #Congress   #BJP  


Prime minister Narendra Modi’s comment on his predecessor Manmohan Singh’s alleged practice of using a raincoat in the bathroom has been met with hostile reactions. It’s difficult to figure out why there’s so much fuss about the simple statement.

Yes, the bathroom is usually not far from the toilet or the bedroom, and the remarks launch a new category of humour close to the two. And the metaphor is slightly awkward. The classical analogy in India is ‘Jal Kamal Vat’, like lotus in water. But that would have of course brought images of Bangaru Laxman and Yeddyurappa to mind. Also, in the sartorial department, the raincoat is poor humble functional gear, compared to suits that costs crores. All the same, the lines are punchy.

Beyond that, there’s little to be so worked up about. Not when the level of public discourse is going down the drain anyway. It is probably the sign of the times. There’s no need to illustrate the point by mentioning expressions ranging from “Jersey buffalo” (Modi describing Rahul Gandhi in 2004) to “psychopath” (Arvind Kejriwal’s diagnosis of Modi). In the courtesy department, the less said the better.

Language is but a reflection of the age, and corruption is of course the defining trait of our times. Who can claim that the Congress-led UPA’s second term was not littered with scams every other day? Think of bundles of cash in parliament: this was a notch above corruption – it was against the dignity of the temple of democracy itself. Wasn’t it the record-breaking bribery business that led to the Congress’s defeat and the rise of Modi (not to mention Kejriwal)? To that extent, Modi has said nothing wrong. In this age of alt-facts, his remarks, for a change, stand fact-checking.

And what’s wrong with the remaining part of his lines? Modi said all politicians should learn from the doctor sahab how to retain a clean image when a carnage is going on all around. Here is Modi authenticating that Manmohan Singh has still retained a clean image. The Congress may not be happy; Manmohan Singh should be. After all, in the proverbial bathroom, you know, everyone is likely to be wearing the emperor’s new clothes.

Moreover, Modi is also leading by example here. He has even a cleaner image than Manmohan’s, even after his name and a certain amount figure in a paper supposedly recovered during a tax raid. Of course, that piece of paper’s genuineness is open to doubt, but Modi’s integrity is not. Compare it with the image of, say, Advani, who had to vow not to contest elections till his name was cleared after a similar, dubious diary mentioned payments to him. He had to prove his integrity. Modi does not need to.

But for that, what could be the reason why nobody (other than Prashant Bhushan) is even bothering to ask when we will finally have a Lokpal – the same one for which people could not wait even a day more and wanted to press parliament to clear the law by sitting late into the night? More than half the term is over and a simple amendment to the law is pending while a whole battery of ordinances, albeit for more pressing public concerns like land acquisition, have come and gone. Modi did not need a Lokayukta as chief minister and does not need a Lokpal to prove that ‘he neither eats nor lets anybody eat’.

Facts can do little when it’s a matter of such faith in the leader. A Google search for “Gujarat + CAG” throws up figures that are only slightly shorter than those mentioned for national-level scams when Manmohan Singh was facing flak. A 2012 CAG report estimates the Gujarat government and state PSUs lost nearly Rs 580 crore due to undue favours to Reliance Industries, Essar Steel and Adani Power. A 2014 CAG report mentions various figures totaling more than Rs 25,000 crore, including benefits to Reliance Petroleum, Essar Power and the Adani Group. M Venkaiah Naidu was more right than he would have thought when he said Modi is as pure as the Ganga: if you take it on faith, the river has certainly retained all its purity for religious purposes.

Faith can endure but not for long. It was arguably the same faith and trust in Manmohan Singh’s leadership that gave the Congress a second term, something unprecedented in recent decades. Most of the bathing with raincoat happened only during the second term.

ashishm@governancenow.com

(The column appears in the February 16-28, 2017 issue)

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