Sigmund Freud is said to have remarked that the only people inscrutable to psychoanalysis are the Irish. He forgot to add that some Indians — the Madhya Pradesh government and a certain section of protesters in the state — don’t even qualify. In Freud’s scheme of things, the primary separation, of child from mother at birth, is the metaphorical first trauma that shapes us all. In MP, though, as recent events show, the mother motif is being deployed in public discourse in a uniquely Indian way.
It all began two years ago when forward caste groups in the state began demanding changes in the SC/ST Atrocities Act and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan assured the Dalit and tribal communities that no “mai ka lal” can end reservation for them. Now, South Asia is perhaps one of the few regions in the world where, literally, being a “mother’s son”, the apple of her eye, is also an assertion of belligerent masculinity. A mama’s boy, unlike in those places where Freudian separation and its anxieties dominate, is a man’s man in India. Such was the effect of Chouhan’s taunt that loving sons from across the state, worried over reservation in promotion, flocked to Bhopal wearing headbands that proudly claim, “hum hai mai ka lal”.
The question that arises is this: What’s wrong with being close to one’s progenitor? After all, every “mai ka lal” is merely whipped up by his “doodh ka karz”, a debt he owes to the first provider. The answer, of course, is nothing at all. There is no need to follow the Western isolationism from mother and motherland in New India. In fact, such is the strength of devotion to the mother that the metaphorical mater is getting its own ministry in Madhya Pradesh, following in the footsteps of Rajasthan. Only the incurably cynical would see the new Cow Ministry as a pre-election ploy.