In the ruins of Magadh

The subtleties of literature, rather than cold political analysis, will help decode events in Patna

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj | Published:July 31, 2017 12:36 am
Nitish Kumar, Nitish Kumar Bihar CM, Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar NDA, JDU NDA, BJP, Indian Express Patna: Bihar Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi administers oath to JD(U) National President Nitish Kumar as Bihar Chief MInister at Raj Bhawan, in Patna on Thursday. PTI photo (PTI7_27_2017_000002B)

WHILE IT IS easier to decry Nitish Kumar’s BJP embrace as yet another instance of rotten politics, the Patna text demands a different reading. Here are eight propositions to decode its narrative.

One: Indian Politics is now an individualistic utilitarian act. It has moved beyond the Plato’s advice in The Republic that true politics is ethics in action. It now involves the art of managing multiple partners simultaneously, with the sole aim to maximising pleasure and power. It celebrates and legitimises narcissism. Many have practised this art before Nitish, he will also have his successors, some of whom will perform this art on him too.

Two: The Patna episode was not a drama, but a novel. Such political coups, because of their curious turns, are often termed as “dramatic”. In great novels, of Paul Auster’s for instance, even the most bizarre twists of life appear predetermined and inevitable. Indian politics has now the ability to deliver the most curious scenarios with routine ease. It no longer surprises us, but reveals itself in chilling banality. The drama is over. Indian politics is now a novel waiting for its generous writers.

We already have an illustrious novel to exemplify it. Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting begins with an 1948 incident in which the revered Communist leader and author Vladimir Clementis took off his cap and placed it on the fellow comrade and Prime Minster Klement Gottwald’s head before an applauding crowd of several thousands in Prague. The sky sprinkled fresh white snow over Prague as Czechoslovakia ushered into a historic moment. Soon after, Clementis was charged with sedition and executed. His cap still remained on Gottwald’s head, but few knew that it belonged to the persecuted leader.

Three: The phrase “U-turn” needs a review. We take many turns through our life, changing jobs, lovers and friends. Our choices often contradict each other. We move on, but quite often return to embrace those with whom we had a bitter separation. We can also lend some space to politicians to make such turns.

Four: His BJP embrace does not mean that Nitish is now “anti-corruption” but supports “lynching and communalism”. To assume that he was a staunch advocate of secularism until his resignation but lost these credentials thereafter is a misleading interpretation of the human mind. He has hobnobbed with his new partners for decades. His life cannot be read as an oscillation between being “secular” and “communal”. Can a human play a game of hide secular and seek communal, or seek secular and hide communal, through his life? If that sounds hilarious, then the prism through which we perceive secularism, communalism and many such phrases needs an appraisal. One need not rusticate ethics from public life but one must acknowledge that a different psychoanalysis is required to comprehend the present politics. Continue to evaluate it on old anvils and it will escape every hit of yours. The moral goalposts have shifted.

Five: Nitish has been a major hope for some writers and intellectuals during the last three years. As they find this hope getting shattered and shame him, they must reflect that they allied with a “turncoat”, who, according to their own yardstick, has been “communal” in the past. Ironically, it cannot be asserted that they would not welcome him back, should he ever make a comeback, a possibility that still exists.

Six: It cannot yet be said that citizens aspired for the Patna text, but many of them thoroughly enjoyed and applauded its dynamics. They described it as “a terrific masterstroke”, “top political game”. People seem to support such strokes, perhaps a reflection of their secret desires, and decry the parties that lag behind. The Congress could not form the government in Goa and Manipur despite being in majority, and yet the blame was not on the usurper, but on the party that let the “opportunity” slip by.

Seven: Though politics wants to be interpreted on its own terms and does not see its failings in Patna, one can still decode it as a human crisis. A crisis that the bearers of the topmost offices swallow their public remarks. For making any comeback to their estranged partners people offer themselves various reasons. Imagine the reasons these leaders might have submitted to their revolting souls for the reunion — that is, if they did so, and if that organ called soul is still capable of some basic functions. And if they did not, imagine the extent of the human crisis.

And eight, a poem: Will it make any difference/if I say/I’m not from Magadh/I am from Avanti?/Of course it will/You’ll be taken to belong to Avanti/You’ll have to forget Magadh/And you will not be able to forget Magadh/You will live your life in Avanti/without knowing Avanti/Then you’ll say/I’m not from Avanti/I’m from Magadh/And no one will believe you.No one will believe you are/From Magadh/No one will recognise you/ in Avanti. (Kya isse kuch fark padega/agar main kahun/main Magadh ka nahin/Avanti ka hun?Magadh ke/maane nahi jaoge/Avanti men/ pehchane nahi jaoge).

The poet is Shrikant Verma. The poem is from Magadh, among the finest poetry collections of modern Hindi. He was associated with Indira Gandhi for years and closely witnessed the Congress’s decay. The poems of this collection came out of the tormenting conflict he faced between his twin loves, politics and poetry. This poem captures his soul, which conceals its nativity of a province in order to seek the residency of another.

In the process, it loses its identity in the both. Replace Magadh and Avanti with Patna and Ahmedabad, Gottwald and Clementis with Indian politicians, and the contours of the human crisis suggested above might become clear. Human crisis, as we know, requires the compassionate nib of a novelist more than the clinical scalpel of a political theorist. ashutosh.bhardwaj@expressindia.com

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