Why Do Demons From The Past Always Cast A Shadow On Today's Breaking News?

Raman Swamy

What would we do without audio-visual news coverage? In this post-modern era, television cameras allow us to experience sights and sounds in our drawing rooms and on our handheld devices by bringing to life events and personalities in far-flung places. 

There was however nothing very special about this Wednesday, November 29, which is not historically important in any case, except that it happens to be the 333rd day of the calendar year and a reminder that there are only 32 days left for year to end.  It is also the day 140 years ago that Thomas Edison invented the world’s first phonogram, the amazing mechanical device for the recording and reproduction of sound. 

Had it not been for that marvelous invention, and the incredible advances in communications technology since then, we would not have been able to see and listen to Ivanka Trump in Hyderabad, Narendra Moodi in Morbi, Rahul Gandhi visitng the Somnath Temple, Akhila alias Hadiya resuming her education in Salem and Karni Sena activists in Lucknow objecting to Mulayam Singh’s daughter-in-law Aparna dancing during her brother’s engagement party at a five-star hotel.

The first thing that strikes one, however, in all these momentous news events, is that all of them pertain to the past.  In one way or the other, even in the second decade of the 21st century the world (or is it only India) seems obsessed with the issues, concerns, beliefs and customs of bygone eras. 

Take Ivanka Trump – and Cherie Blair and Chanda Kochhar who were also on stage at the global women’s entrepreneurship summit.  What was the central theme?  Women’s empowerment. 

Gender equality has been a contentious issue since Adam and Eve.  In India, in spite of efforts to glorify the role and status of women in Vedic times, the truth is that women have had fewer rights and privileges than men in ancient, medieval and modern eras.

The best advice for uber-powerful women demanding power for womankind is what Emmy Award-winning American comedian Roseanne Barr once said:  “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it”.  But Trump, Blair and Kochhar obviously know that already.   The point is not to get into the debate about an egalitarian society, which is a highly laudable objective well worth campaigning for.  The point here is to draw attention to the age-old theme.

Similarly Narendra Modi’s thunderous oratory during his electioneering in Gujarat was less about today and tomorrow and all about the past.  He launched into an all-out diatribe against Rahul Gandhi for daring to offer prayers at the Somnath temple.  His principle argument was that since (according to him) Jawaharalal Nehru had opposed renovation of the Somanth Temple, hence his great-grandson Rahul Gandhi had no right to enter the holy precincts.   

It seems the former RSS pracharak-turned-Prime-Minister has been secretly studying the Book of Exodus, which says:  “I thy Lord am a jealous god, visiting the sins of the fathers on the children, up to the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me”.  

However, he has conveniently ignored the teachings of the modern Bible which emphatically states:  “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity (sin) of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son”.

Again, the point here is not to get into a theological debate but merely to point out that whipping up pseudo-religious passions by digging out obscure fact-flakes from a forgotten era is considered relevant to a modern day election battle where “vikas” was supposed to be the central slogan.  

 It is not just anybody who is seeking to visit the sins of Nehru on young Rahul’s head – it is the Prime Minister of India.  Taking the cue, BJP spokespersons and afternoon anchors of almost all TV channels went on overdrive.  The target was the Congress vice-president and the goal was to declare him a “non-Hindu”.  By extension, the logic was that a non-Hindu political leader had no business worshipping at a Hindu temple which his great-grandfather had refused to rebuild.

Why not?  In a democratic country where many citizens legally possess two passports, why cannot a citizen believe in two religions, or even three or four?  Rahul Gandhi’s ancestry is no secret – his mother is a Catholic and his father was the son of a Kashmiri Pandit married to a Parsi.  So what?

Another sign that obscurantism rules strong in this day and age is the mindless controversy over the release of the film Padmavati.  On Wednesday, matters were taken to an even more absurd level.  The Karni Sena objected to Aparna Yadav, daughter-in-law of Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, dancing on the Ghoomar song from the film ‘Padmavati’ during her brother’s engagement party at a five-star hotel in Lucknow. 

Probably, dire threats will be issued to cut off her nose too. 

The Hadiya case on the other hand does not involve decapitation of heads and face parts.  It involves depriving a young woman of her freedom to choose the man she wants to marry.  What happened to the glorious Swayamvar tradition, which is much-celebrated in the epics? 

How is it that the highest court in the land has allowed itself to get embroiled in a case like this?  If a girl wants to embrace the religion practiced by her husband, why should the wise men of the apex Bench want to come in her way? How could a high court annul a marriage in which neither partner expressed the desire to divorce or seek talaq? 

Perhaps it would have been useful if Ivanka Trump, Cherie Blair and Chanda Kochhar had expressed their views and taken a stand on the Hadiya case, where the young women was seen on TV crying out plaintively “I want my freedom”.   

Nov 30, 2017

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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