Long ago, P G Wodehouse outlined two broad ways of approaching, understanding and describing the world and its problems. The first is “making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether”, as Wodehouse did consistently with novels about the hilarious trials and tribulations of English aristocracy. “The other is going deep down into life.” The quality and content of the concerns of two senior and powerful politicians begs a question: Which model does India’s political discourse fit into?
Union minister of science and technology, Harsh Vardhan has chosen to weigh in on the matter of Rahul Gandhi’s gotra. “Jawaharlal Nehru’s gotra was ‘Dattatreya’ because he was Brahmin. His sons would have inherited his gotra. However, Indira Gandhi can’t transfer her father’s gotra to her son. Thus, Rajiv Gandhi, being a son of a Parsi (Feroz Gandhi), can’t have Dattatreya gotra,” explained Vardhan on Twitter. Why, some may ask, are arcane details of the ritual clan affiliation of an Opposition leader worth discussing at a time when learning outcomes for school children remain dismal, research woefully inadequate and social practices of various temperaments with little scientific temper abound? UP Chief Minister Adityanath, too, shone the spotlight on an issue he obviously deems most pressing: Lord Hanuman, he has claimed, was a Dalit, “deprived” and a “forest-dweller”.
Both the ministers have received flak. Adityanath has even been served a legal notice by the Rajasthan Sarv Brahmin Mahasabha for dragging the caste of the divine into electoral politics. There is, perhaps, an explanation for the aristocratic concern with the social antecedents of characters dynastic and divine. Politics for some, like a Wodehousean comedy, is meant to “ignore real life altogether”. The question is, who is the joke on.