Turning prophet without sufficient provocation, Union minister Ramdas Athawale has revealed that the meaning of life, the universe and everything adds up to 15, and not 42, as Douglas Adams had grievously overestimated. While campaigning in 2014, Narendra Modi had promised to bring back black money stashed overseas and deposit Rs 15 lakh in each deserving citizen’s bank account. The ghost of that long-forgotten promise fell athwart Athawale in Sangli district, where he was asked the traditional Indian question: “Where’s the money coming from?” Rashly, he answered.
In prophetic mood, Athawale read the entrails of the RBI and found it to be an untrustworthy moneylender. It had been asked for money but it had been reluctant (naturally, since the RBI holds no black money). And therefore the Rs 15 lakh would come “slowly”, though the election promise had suggested that its release would be dramatic, like the gates of Heaven — or at least the floodgates of the Bhakra-Nangal Dam — being opened.
It is always dangerous to present myth as reality, and Athawale has hedged his risk by putting it on the futures market, where all millennial beliefs belong. They depend on the old jungle saying, usually and incorrectly attributed to Lord Baden-Powell: “Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey.” The saying recommends patience, but does not guarantee that the monkey will be caught. Actually, Athawale has created a modern cargo cult (like those seen in Melanesia early in the 20th century) which will reward deserving citizens by depositing Rs 15 lakh in their bank accounts at an unspecified future date, which depends on the goodness of citizens. It could stretch to infinity if they are really bad and refuse to believe in the cult. Millennialism annuls risk, but what it means for Athawale’s own future at the hands of his leaders cannot be prophesied.