Saturday, December 06, 2008

Gagsters and Gangsters

Byline by M J Akbar: Gagsters and Gangsters

We have enough evidence: there is a cabal of cyber terrorists employed by mobile phone companies to destabilise the honourable Government of Dr Manmohan Singh with evil jokes. Who else could be manufacturing those SMSes that begin to circulate whenever opportunity arises? This is a professional hit job. This is not the work of amateurs. If stand-up comedians like Jay Leno can hire professional gag-writers, so can mobile phone companies, since each SMS-joke that is circulated means revenue for hungry coffers. The Government seems to be as impotent against gagsters within the country as it is against gangsters from across the border.

We had hardly blinked upon hearing that our smug finance minister had become even smugger after being transferred to home affairs when a solemn SMS landed on my machine:
"Let us pray that Chidambaram succeeds in bringing down terrorism the way he has brought down share prices."

If this is not sedition at a moment of national crisis, then please let me know the meaning of sedition. The gagster, moreover, has the temerity to be subtle. This is not one of those ha-ha husband-wife jokes. This is serious stuff.

This was followed by a committee effort, for I cannot believe that only one gagster dreamt this whole bit up:

"Chidambaram's report card after 6 months.
1: Police to people ratio increased from 14 per lakh to 14.0012 per lakh. How? One million commit suicide due to inflation. One lakh die in explosions, 25 lakhs in crime and accidents, three million migrate out of India due to fear.
2: Holding and folding dhoti time reduced by 5%. Big productivity gains.
3: Duties of all DGPs outsourced to FPOs, Homeguards, Excise department and his ex-Harvard associates.
4: Police to be paid in oil bonds only.
5: RDX imports attract higher penalties.
6: Duties slashed for substandard bulletproof jackets.
7: Service tax to be imposed on Bangladeshi infiltrators at border crossings.
8: Visa entry tax imposed only on Nepalis.
9: 25% entry tax on all AK Series rifles and all types of grenades.
10: If you still survive…then see you in 2009! But be ready for tax on your happiness and survival!"

I have been wondering about that phrase "If you still survive…" Is that a double entendre? At one level of course the gagster was referring to you and me, and the bleak possibilities of our survival against gangsters. But could he be also, obliquely, referring to bleaker possibility of Chidambaram's survival as home minister? Note that the report card was limited to six months. Why? I sense something sinister here. Has he already drawn the conclusion that this arrangement will end before six months? What are the facts? No matter how long Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi drag out the life of this dying Government with virility injections that turn out to be too watery, they have to hold general elections by April. That is it. In 15 weeks at the outside, and probably within 13 weeks, the great electoral contraption will begin to whirr. This means that the Election Commission will declare the season open around mid-March, after which Government really becomes a holding operation. Expect results in the first week of May.

Is the gagster saying that this lot in Delhi will not return to power? A fellow gagster certainly thinks so. I quote: "We have taken care of the men who came by boats…Time now to sort out the idiots who came by votes." Mumbai predictably evoked anger. This gag was not quite a gag, but rose from the heart: "Forgiving a terrorist is left to God. But fixing their appointment with God is our responsibility." Laughter may be the best medicine for anger, but there are times when you do not want the relief of such medicine.

Have some of the gagster gone too far? The SMS about the Kerala chief minister cannot be printed in a family newspaper. But it did very well on SMS, for whom laws of libel have not yet been invented.

I wonder if politicians understand one law of public affairs. Everyone can survive criticism. And no one can survive ridicule. The gagster flourishes only when ridicule is the only weapon left in a democracy, until the day of voting arrives.

There is a point at which the gagster can run out of gags. After a week of dithering, when Maharashtra was effectively without a Government despite being in the throes of its most serious crisis, the Congress finally installed a new chief minister, Ashok Chavan, and its ally, Sharad Pawar, made Chhagan Bhujbal the deputy chief minister.

The SMS that followed was not a gag:

"Chhagan Bhujbal, a man who was single-handedly responsible for the complete decay and corruption in the police force and was removed for his involvement in the Telgi scam has been rewarded to head the home department (sic) again by the NCP. So much for the show of force by Mumbaikars. We should not take this lying down. Forward this message to as many as possible."

Dear Mumbaikars, I am doing my bit.

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