THE HUGE Dalit protest in Delhi against the demolition of a Sant Ravidas temple didn’t get half the airtime it deserved, having been outclassed by various dramas unfolding around P Chidambaram, in person and in absentia, in the 90 minutes that elapsed between his appearance at the party headquarters and his arrest at home. It was actually a theatrical contest, with the Congress opening with a press conference where there were so many high-profile lawyers that it could have been mistaken for a courtroom drama. And then, exeunt omnes by the back door, and lights up on the CBI scaling the walls of Chidambaram’s Jorbagh home. That was distinctly Shakespearean, rather like nemesis catching up with Macbeth in Dunsinane Castle. But the quote of the day did not figure in Chidambaram’s magisterially libertarian speech. Far away from then action, BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain gave it to PTI, insisting that the investigative agencies have complete freedom and no political compulsions. The caged parrot has been elevated to a condor, ranging where it will?
Of course, Hussain was being consistent. He has always spoken up for the agencies, and against political interference. He told Zee’s highly appreciative ‘Desh ki Baat’ anchor that the Modi government had always promised zero tolerance for corruption, and that consistent with his stature as a politician and a lawyer (he revealed that he charged “Rs 10-20 lakh” to meet clients for a few minutes), Chidambaram should have “gone to the CBI office rather than the Congress office”. Last year, when the heat was on the Teflon-coated Robert Vadra, he had accused the Congress of intimidating the agencies and back in 2011, he had accused Chidambaram as home minister of controlling the agencies – a party clip of his press conference is still accessible.
The drama continued after Chidambaram’s arrest, now in the vein of the folk jatra of the east. Abhishek Manu Singhvi fielded Rajdeep Sardesai’s questions in all seriousness while seated on a silver throne and clad in a tunic of some kind of velveteen, very richly embroidered, which would not have looked out of place at the coronation of Haile Selassie. And old habits die hard so, though Arnab Goswami and his insistent desire to know are distant memories, Times Now’s Big Question was: why didn’t Chidambaram take questions at his conference? That was actually the least intriguing element of an eventful day.
The habits of real estate tycoons die even harder, so President Trump banged the phone down on the government of Denmark when he learned that it had no intention of selling Greenland. He immediately cancelled his tickets on Air Force One to Copenhagen with one hand while tweeting with the other: “The Prime Minister [of Denmark] was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the US and Denmark by being so direct.” From which, we must conclude that making a strategic real estate investment was the only purpose of a presidential visit. Why Greenland? Because Thule isn’t room enough?
But it would be unfair to put this down entirely to Trump’s business instincts. The US has a history of purchasing territory – Washington bought Louisiana from France for 68 million francs in 1803, and Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million in 1867. The Washington Post, the Roanoke Times, the Dallas Morning Herald, USA Today and AFP have taken note of the nation’s real estate dealings in a largely jocular vein, but and the idea of purchasing the world’s biggest island for cash on the barrel may seem perfectly reasonable to some citizens.
But diplomatically, Trump has yet again revealed himself to be a chump. The Danish tabloid B.T.’s front page headline was ‘Donald Dumb’. The diplomatic fallout was manifest on Tuesday, when Iceland’s prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir declined to meet US vice president Mike Pence. She told the national broadcaster RÚV that she preferred to honour a prior commitment – to address the Council of Nordic Trade Unions in Malmö. Never before has a US vice president been passed over in favour of trade unionists, and if Nato member Iceland has chosen to do it, it must be read as a diplomatic message.
NBC News caught the Donald analysing the situation in Kashmir: “Kashmir is a very complicated place. You have the Hindus, and you have the Muslims, and I wouldn’t say they get along so great. And that’s what you have right now.” Many irate Americans responded, challenging him to locate Kashmir on a map. And several news outlets in the US, the UK and Europe have compiled lists of the extraordinary behaviour of POTUS in the 24 hours after Denmark spurned him. They are impressively endless and include a messianic statement: “I am the chosen one.” Much less would cause an ordinary citizen of a democracy to be placed in the care of the state, as an elementary precaution for public safety.