In many dictatorships across the world, lampooning the ‘supreme leader’ is a crime punishable by death or prison sentences worse than death itself. Before we pat ourselves for our ‘vibrant’ democracy, as our political stalwarts and their foreign counterparts put it, let us take a realistic stock of our country.
If you thought it was the whimsical Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee alone who threw tantrums over cartoons and threw people into dungeons, you got it wrong. The row over political cartoons in the NCERT textbooks is the best examples.
Netas of all hues have thundered against a 50-year-old cartoon showing Jawaharlal Nehru whipping BR Ambedkar for the snail’s pace of work in drafting the Constitution. Both have played their roles in nation building, but are now dead and gone. The cartoon was published in a national daily and is a matter of historical record.
Now suddenly we find some groups taking umbrage to that cartoon (getting offended, developing feeling of animosity… the list goes on) and has got the government to agree to delete it.
The incident made several interest groups realise that if children were allowed free (or rather uncensored) access to political developments of the past, there would be little future for several ideologies based on divisiveness. It also dawned on many that if the origins of their political movements were laid bare before the smart schoolchildren, their out-dated and irrational outfits would soon run out of takers. And so began the clamour from across the country for text books to be ‘politically correct’.
The designated panel of ‘experts’ sifted through the NCERT curriculum for political booby traps. And lo! 36 out of 176 cartoons were found to be inappropriate and the panel has recommended their removal.
These cartoons reflect the critical political analysis of the times when the corresponding incident occurred. Going back to them now and trying to erase their presence is nothing short of juvenile conduct. And the current ‘revision’ reeks of the dictatorship we see in George Orwell’s 1984. In the book, there is a government department dedicated to destroying records of all follies of the past and rewriting them to make the leadership look like infallible visionaries — we are not far.
Tolerance to criticism, no matter how vitriolic it is, is an indicator of the maturity of a leader or an organisation. The more convinced the party is about its ideology and history, the less will be the tendency to throw tantrums over ‘offensive content’.
It is an attempt at the impossible to keep historic realities away from the children as they are not confined to text book knowledge. Information of all shades is available in the media, especially on the internet.
We also need to understand that perspectives on the same person or event are divergent, depending on the level of involvement and impact in the life of the person involved. For example, Indira Gandhi is a great leader but others perceive her as the only dictator the country has had since independence. So who gets to decide the political ‘acceptability’ of a cartoon on the Emergency?
Many political parties that ran decades of mindless ‘education in mother tongue only’ campaigns are now struggling to own up their folly when English-speaking youths from other liberal states corner the best jobs. Attempting to erase the records of their actions will not undo the damage done.
We should come out from the state of denial and learn to accept criticism as inputs for introspection and course correction. Ego-driven ideas of self-glorification must not ossify us into living fossils in a dynamic world.
The writer works for Postnoon
About the Author (Author Profile)
My interests lie in current affairs, social issues and political analysis. A strong believer of independent thinking and healthy scepticism.