A young Indian cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi, has been charged by the Mumbai police under the sedition law, for some of his cartoons. I have never seen his cartoons and as learnt from the media, neither most others. That means he has yet to acquire fame as a cartoonist. But thanks to the Mumbai police Aseem has become an instant success, like the Jasmine Revolution, Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street or our own Desi Anna Hazare movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill. It is just possible that Assem has been picked up for being associated with the Jan Lokpal Bill. The towering personality of Anna Hazare clouded many geniuses , and hence this brave new world of the Mumbai police has raised the hopes of the despondent nation, who was growing hopeless after the physical assault on Prashant Bhushan, the Supreme Court Lawyer, who was in the forefront of the movement with Anna Hazare. It was followed with hate speeches of the ruling firmament’s dark powers. Those in the know of developments of politics in India post the first General Election in 1952, will vouch for these weapons in the armoury of the old Congress, with which the people were disenchanted at the state level. When the people suffered the same fate of frustration at the central level in 1974-75, Emergency was imposed on India suspending all fundamental and human rights. A film, Aandhi, depicted the application of these weapons in politics, inviting censor and ban on the film. In case of the Anna led movement, we have been noticing the repeat of the political culture of the decades of the 60s and 70s. Otherwise, even the greatest buffoon on earth would enjoy a cartoon if it can tickle the bones or spur the inert brain. If a cartoon fails to create genuine humour, it fails and would not get any attention. Cartoonist like Sudhir Dar, R.K.Laxman and the one who used to draw for the Economic Times will always be remembered for their humour and verbal as well as non verbal criticism of the prime ministers, chief ministers, ministers, members of parliament, members of state assemblies, bureaucrats, industrialists, businessmen, women executives like Ms Fonseca of the Economic Times and foreign dignitaries. In fact, several important issues, which escaped attention, were put by such cartoons on the study table. Going after the followers of Anna Hazare or anybody or even an independent person smacks of autocracy- the blind misuse of the executive authority to impose Emergency. Some hyperactive courtiers are selling the same silly ideas to the establishment due to their flawless assessment that the people are likely to change the composition of the government in 2014.
India is an ancient country. She knows the value of humour as no other country. That is why it comes as most ludicrous when the Mumbai police levels charges of sedition on a budding cartoonist aged just 25 years, under the closed eyes of a state government headed by a young man of modern educated class from a political lineage respected for public honesty; before a home minister from a party that has separated from the mother Congress Party on the ground of convictions and nationalism; the cottoned ears of a judiciary that is over active in taking suo motu action on simple matters that should have been dealt at the level of a junior police constable. Only the media found it difficult to swallow the bitter potion, even as the anti Lokpal movement spinners among them worked overtime to give it the spin of insult to our national symbols. As if the several buffoons of ministers don’t insult our national symbols like the constitution, law, democracy, honesty, integrity, unity and nationalism on a 24×7 basis! In so far as the Anna led movement for the Jan Lokpal Bill is concerned, or the political party that is being conceived by his team members, or other movements against black money or GM crops or FDI in multi brand retail etc are concerned, they should not expect any mercy from the establishment. Now that they have severally and collectively challenged the establishment and stand to threaten its very survival, it is bound to react as fiercely as it can. As they say, nothing is fair in war; rather the fair becomes the foul and foul becomes fair. Finding faults in virtues and adoring vices is a powerful tool in the hands of rulers, especially in democracies. Then, Indian democracy is unique: it suffers no humour though it generates both humour and hot air in abundance on a daily basis. The Economic Times cartoons specially derived inspiration from such gas plants.
Talking of humour being long recognized in India, it needs to be highlighted that the Indian aesthetics categorizes all creative work on the basis of the Principles of Rasa. There are a total of 9 rasas. Some scholars have chosen to add one more to make it 10. But the majority agrees on 9. One of these 9 rasa is humour or the Hasya Rasa. It was long acknowledged to be a significant rasa. Its characterstics are laughter, smile, mirth etc. Its supporting and corollary emotions have been dealt in great details. What can create mirth, laughter, satire etc is dealt in all details. So much so, that nobody has been able to add anything significant to the rasa theories of India. Political theories of Hobbes, Lock or Marx have not left such a valuable treasure of thought as the rasa theory. The greatest humour is that India has forgotten this theory and there is no hope of its revival unless some university in America sets up a School For Rasa and starts awarding degrees to our leaders, bureaucrats and businesses who all owe their education to that country! Presently our ministers are so ill informed on the subject of Hasya that they have threatened to take strong action against the Washington Post of America for having taken the liberty of sounding slightly humourous on the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and his government!
The greatest humour of all humours is that India again is the only country in the world that has been organizing Mahamoorkh Sammelans(Greatest Fools Conclave) and Hasya Kavi Sammelans (Humour Poets Conclave)! The state governments and the central government must have spent millions of rupees as grants to whosoever could successfully organize these conclaves. Many did organize but many others created laughter by swallowing the money rather than the humour. Even then, the Prime Ministers and Chief ministers and ministers and even academics and poets of yore used to enjoy such conclaves and the wonderful poetic creations that poked fun at them. However, it has come to an end ever since the UPA-I came to power and Manmohan Singh became the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi the Chairperson of the NAC(national advisory council). How can the humourist do his business if the first barrier of choosing the object of his cartoon poses the biggest obstacle? Whom to choose between Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi? If it is Manmohan Singh, it is undesirable as he gets more than his share of public attention; if Sonia is chosen and sarcasm or ridicule is employed, her coteries frown. Everyone has learnt how to be politically correct, even though they might not have learnt how to influence people & make friends. Aseem type insolence can be the work of a young man. So the establishment moves in quickly to impart some education to them by applying the sedition law straightaway. If the aim is to terrorize, it can’t be lesser than al-qaeda kind. Can it be? Sedition and heresy can be synonyms in the lexicons of autocratic establishments.
Someone may ask if it was ever possible to be humourous in India on the strength of the theory of rasa alone without any institutional arrangement? Before it is clarified, let me make a statement: humour is one of the essential needs of a human being like other needs of food or sex. The Rasa Theorists devised an institution that survives even today in this dry frowning world- it is the festival of Holi. We can’t spare more than one full day in a year for paying total attention to a particular subject. The world anti suicide day was observed only yesterday! The World Hearty Laughter Day or Holi is also celebrated only once a year. But that one day is enough to cure us of all our negative energy accumulated in the whole year and restore the chemical balance of humour and other rasas in our body, especially the brain. If the brain is not cleaned in this manner, the over accumulation of negativity can make us hopeless and loose faith in everything in life , leading us to commit even suicide! Holi is a celebration of equality of the reality of the diversity of existence. Nowhere in the world, equality alone is visible. Call it class, caste, community or category, inequality in any form is always visible everywhere.The festival of Holi makes everybody come closer for a day forgetting diversity. The high and the low get sprinkled in varied hues and can’t easily be recognized. Each one wishes the other good luck, Each one unburdens himself or herself of the negativity. Each one is entertained over sweets. Even consumption of bhang, a herb that gives a high and makes the consumer laugh incessantly, is permitted on this occasion. The net result is that it makes a buffoon of a perfect human being for a few hours. That too humourously- no sedition charges slapped! Has India lost that spirit? The sedition charges against Aseem Trivedi, the budding cartoonist would tend to suggest that.
Getting the attention of a cartoonist depends on one’s popularity or notoriety. One should consider himself lucky to come under the brush or pen of a cartoonist. Only the notorious fear the cartoonist. The cartoonist spares none. He is not kind. He is a skilled surgeon of very high calibre. The bunch of third rate politicians making a council of ministers gives him a lot of opportunities to exploit the foibles and idiosyncrasies of these worthies. Their actions and words create endless mirth. Similarly, traditions beyond their expiry date(like untouchability or begar-unpaid labour) or hate campaign against wealth creation etc provide enough material for the satirist. Women, specially those exchanging femininity for money, can create laughter. Parents unable to answer questions of their innocent children can be at the receiving end of the satirist. AFV is minting money by hosting shows about America’s Funniest Videos. There is nothing that can claim privilege from the satirist or the cartoonist. No human being or authority, including the Almighty, can be insulated from the stings of the cartoonist or satirist. In fact, some of the healthiest humour can be found only about the Gods, who are considered infallible generally! If the education minister needs to educate herself, the information minister to get basic information on a plethora of subjects, the finance minister establish his solvency, the law minister give proof of his faith in the rule of law, the corporate affairs minister not to treat the companies as his personal businesses, the home minister to rise above his state and talk the nation and the prime minister to own responsibility for all matters executive rather than splitting accountability and the satirist cartoonist provokes them to wake up to the requirements of governance, it is patriotic and not seditious.
The government must realize the reality. The Maharashtra government must immediately undo the wrong and apologize to the nation. The policeman must be sent on immediate training in appreciating the value of humour. In fact they need humour treatment to restore the chemical equilibrium of their brains, which are overflowing with negativity and given a fortnight’s treatment with humour TDS(thrice a day in doctor write). Let us laugh heartily at all these poker faced ministers enjoying the humour of being in the council of ministers instead of the Tihar jail Number 3 in Delhi. They have no right to satirise the aam aadmi, who received some respectful treatment only from R.K.Laxam.
Manmohan Singhji, kindly lower the rate of growth of such national negativity so that people can feel happy even on an empty stomach!