Roaring lions and meowing cats

Animals continue to contribute immensely to Indian politics (and I’m not talking here about the herds that congregate at seaside resorts ahead of a vote, or rush to the house well to drink from the Pyrenean spring). I am referring to the real self-respecting quadrupeds who are increasingly turning the country into a single animal farm, and without whom our political menagerie cannot be complete. Let me explain.

Our obsession with quadrupeds began in the days of Mr. Manmohan Singh, when “animal spirits” were unleashed to give impetus to our industrial growth (and it worked too, with 7-8% growth every year). Then came the Supreme Court’s “parrot in a cage” observation about the CBI. Those were the good old days when no one would have considered applying that phrase to the court itself, like some bad guys are used to doing these days. In any case the parrot looks more like a plucked chicken these days, but then who am I to interfere in the domain of a taxidermist?

Then came Amrit Kaal from the BJP and suddenly all sorts of animals appeared in the political firmament. The first was the Jallikattu bull in the Chinamma shop which turned out to be a lot of bull. Then came the AAP leader’s dog, Mr. Somnath Bharti, who was accused of biting his wife, on her orders. At the police station, however, the dog was just wagging its tail, as Labradors do. Realizing it was a case of a dog wagging its tail, the police had to forcibly remove Mr Bharti. There was a rumor afterwards that the dog died from the bite but I couldn’t confirm it.

Then Mr. Azam Khan’s buffaloes made headlines, allegedly being stolen. The entire district police were deployed to search for them, which ended when it was discovered that they had defected to the BJP, where they felt safer and were promised tickets to the next election, in preference to the usual bipeds.

This was quickly followed by a woman from UP (or elsewhere) alleging that a neighbour’s parrot hurled four-letter slurs at her. She filed an FIR, the parrot was taken to the police station and questioned. But all he did was whistle, a gender-neutral musical note, and eventually had to be released for lack of evidence being heard. Police suspected that the neighbour, owner of the parrot, was in fact a ventriloquist but could not prove it.

I say all this simply to emphasize that we have always been fascinated by animal tales, and to put into context the current uproar over lions. There are more roars in India these days than in the plains of the Serengeti or the Masai Mara, all around the four lions on the Asoka pillar. But it’s time to look into the matter and examine the matter dispassionately. Although Mr Modi received the lion’s share of the blame, he cannot be blamed for this piece of carnivorous sculpture as there had been plenty of signs that he was about to let the cat out of the bag.

The only lions in India (excluding the Punjab kidneys) are in Gujarat – the Gir lions, and therefore Mr. Modi has an intellectual property right over them. Only now are we beginning to understand why he always refused to share the Gir lions with the rest of India and resisted their relocation elsewhere. He was saving them for the pillar Asoka! And he doesn’t like competing tigers either, that’s why Tiger Shiv Sena was reduced to a meowing cat and Royal Bengal tigress was quarantined in her own state.

It is the age of the 56 inch chest and the poor Asokan lions with their regal gravity have no place in India today. A brawny India has no place for a meditative or pacifist lion – after all, Sri Lanka has such a lion on its flag, and look where it has them. A reborn Naya Bharat won’t stand a Simba, or a Disney lion, not even a politely growling Metro Goldwyn Meyer lion. No, sir, fangs, claws and a roaring demeanor are all the rage and the new avatars at the top of Parliament convey that symbolism perfectly.

The question, however, is: is this message being sent to China or to our own citizens? If it is the former, I hope the Prime Minister’s advisers have heeded the aphorisms of ancient Confucian wisdom. One of them is: “A roaring lion kills no prey.” I’m sure President Xi Jinping has refreshed his Confucius – why else would he continue to grin like a Cheshire Cat through it all? Somehow I feel like it will take more than a few snarling lions from whatever angle/elevation Mr Hardip Singh Puri is looking at them from to deter the Chinese to build villages in Doklam or bridges over Lake Pangong Tso in Ladakh.

In the meantime, of course, I continue to worry about the next Asoka Pillar upgrade. Will it be after 2024, when the Parliament below has been reduced to a purring kitten? And will the new heraldic symbol be the Bulldozer or the saber-toothed tiger, both of which are perfectly time-appropriate in their own way?

Charles P. Patton