If the Indian media has been critical of globalisation, it has merely begged to differ, by means of polite, earnest and principled arguments.
But the government can expect some heavy incoming fire in the new year from one of the big hitters of American business media. To appear just before the Budget, the January 24 issue of Forbes will carry an article by chairman and editor-in-chief Steve Forbes headlined ‘What India has Done to its Money is Sickening and Immoral’. “India is the most extreme and destructive example of the anticash fad currently sweeping governments and the economics profession,” he writes. “What India has done is to commit a massive theft of people’s property without even the pretence of due process — a shocking move for a democratically elected government. One expects such things in places like Venezuela.”
But Venezuelans reacted sharply to their government’s folly. Indians sometimes do that too, in a sporadic way, as in Varanasi. On the stage of Aaj Tak’s Halla Bol programme at Ravidas Ghat, defending his prime minister in his own constituency, BJP squeaksperson Sambit Patra appeared to be addressing the crowd with Hindi variations of that time-honoured insurance policy: “Nice doggie.” That’s what you say when you encounter a ferocious beast in an alley on a dark and stormy night.
Halla Bol appeared to degenerate into chaos, with milling crowds hurling cheerfully red plastic garden chairs at each other. This was despite Patra taking out pots of insurance of the ‘nice doggie’ variety. He had started proceedings with an invocation to Har Har Mahadev of Kashi, and constantly reminded the crowd that he was on holy ground, that he was addressing no ordinary mortals but the citizens of Varanasi, and so on.
But the tipping point came pretty early, when he sought to present demonetisation as “arthamanthan”, a modern parallel of samudramanthan. He said that just as both gods and demons were inconvenienced by the latter, demonetisation was troubling both black money hoarders (a lot) and the honest (a little). Which cued unpleasant questions about honest deaths in queues. And Patra’s reply caused the citizens of Varanasi to erupt into action in a manner that would have earned the admiration of the people of Venezuela, who have just scuppered a demonetisation exercise in their country.
“I am in Kashi,” said Patra over and over again as a matter of caution, but the people out there, whether plain vanilla mango people or the political motivated (is there a difference any more?), were not willing to wait for the ambrosia that will flow across the land after arthamanthan wrings all the poison out. The garden chairs flew as furiously as the invective directed at the prime minister. Sambit Patra has batted for the PM from the beginning of his innings — actually, from when the votes of the last general election were being counted, when he had exultantly squeaked that the lions of the Congress were skulking about while his lion strode the land, roaring. But defending the demons of demonetisation in Varanasi was beyond his powers. If even India’s newborns can be trolled for the names their parents give them — not just by the dematerialised digital rabble but by substantial bods like Mohandas Pai — no one is safe.
Patra was not the only person in the subcontinent taking out insurance in the traditional manner. The video of the week — which is actually a set of stills — is from Pakistan’s ARY News, which captured Pakistan International Airlines officials with a goat on an airport runway. A black goat which they had just sacrificed in the manner of the ancients, at the nose wheel of an ATR aircraft. The whole fleet of 10 propeller aircraft, which fly to smaller strips, was grounded after the Chitral-Islamabad flight crashed with a failed engine. Another ATR flight out of Multan was called back when a snag developed shortly after takeoff. Now, ground control had clearing one aircraft after checks, but the airline preferred to take out insurance in the Abrahamic manner before taking to the air.
Speaking of the old ways, a news service reports that the head of the department of panchkarma at Gujarat Ayurveda University claims in a paper that the gaseous emissions of Westerns cows have punched a hole through the ozone layer. There’s a lot of action around this story, for bad science is always good fun, but the responses seem to miss the most obvious point — this is a righting of historical wrongs on an epic scale. Late in the 20th century, US climate negotiators ran a bizarre campaign to establish that by the simple acts of burping, belching and otherwise expelling methane, India’s livestock caused more global warming than industrial effluents. At that time, pseudo-secularist environmentalists hit back with all the force at their command, and turned the US campaign into laughing gas. And now, years after the gas wars ended, the protectors of gau mata are bravely opening fire. Imagine.