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A Solicitor General begged to deny bail to P Chidambaram “since he is highly intelligent.” A judge refused bail to a social activist because they discovered that he (gasp) read books

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (PTI)

Rupa Gulab

It’s hard to wrap my head around this: I live in a country where a Solicitor General begged the court to deny bail to a former FM “since he is highly intelligent.”

Intelligence is evidently a crime in the Dear Leader’s New India. A few days later, a judge in Mumbai refused bail to a social activist because the police raided his home and discovered that he (gasp) read books!

“War and Peace is about a war in another country,” the judge thundered. “Why were you having these books and CDs at home? You will have to explain this to the court.”

There was so much outrage in the nation that the judge later said he was talking about another book called War and Peace in Junglemahal. The editor of that book, a senior journalist based in Kolkata, is now paranoid that the cops will hound him.

Do note though: reading books is a crime in New India. We should be reading the BJP’s propaganda and lies on WhatsApp instead, no?

This inspired most of us to rush to our bookshelves and anxiously scan the titles. Even one “objectionable” title can translate to incriminating evidence, dear god. My normally unflappable husband insisted on putting his favourite copies of Calvin & Hobbes in the bank locker because Calvin is decidedly subversive.

We have bigger problems, though, as we possess many books on 9/11 and “wars in other countries”—that clearly means we’re up to no good. Even an innocuous title like Bridget Jones’s Diary can make the ED/CBI/NIA suspect that we are guilty of hawala transactions and/or are receiving funds from a CIA agent called Bridget.

Yes, our government agencies are as clownish as that. Consider what the National Investigative Agency did to a Kashmiri doctor recently.

Senior cardiologist Upendra Kaul was summoned as a witness in a terror funding case over an SMS exchange with one of his patients (jailed Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik). Dr Kaul was asked about a message which said “Blood Report Value INR 2.78” and politely explained that INR is also a medical term that stands for Internationalised Normalised Ratio, and has no connection to hawala money. Incidentally, it was the Government of India that thrust Malik on him as a patient in 1996.

Some people believe that Dr Kaul was being intimidated because like any normal thinking person who reads books and assimilates facts, he wasn’t exultant over the abrogation of Article 370. In fact, he said this on NDTV: “The 1990 (exodus of Kashmiri Pandits) was a very bad moment. But for what was done in 1990, are we now taking revenge on Kashmiri Muslims?”

Which reminds me of a doctor I met the other day who casually mentioned that he used to holiday in Kashmir often, but he’s never going back in case some resentful Kashmiri thinks he’s there to buy land for himself (which, according to the government, was a key reason for the abrogation). Then he muttered some rather unsavoury comments in which the word “fools” surfaced frequently.

When did we lose it?

The answer perhaps lies in 2014. We got a leader who seems to be the first and only person on Planet Earth with a Master’s degree in ‘Entire Political Science’.

Maybe he’s from Jupiter? He gave us a Union HRD Minister who wasn’t a graduate but the poor deluded thing thought she was because she attended a three-day course at Yale. In 2019, he gave us yet another Union HRD Minister who brazenly misrepresents his educational qualifications. In short, education in India is run by three, erm (what’s the title of that film based on a book by one of India’s most popular grammar-challenged authors?). I shall prudently leave it there.

On the flip side, there is one book we won’t be punished for reading. Hitler’s Mein Kampf continues to be a favourite of the ruling party. If you want a government-sponsored holiday in the US, just flaunt a copy of that book wherever you go. Some weirdo called Vivek Agnihotri did something similar and got lucky.

Tip: Bunk the conference, avoid the bigots and do decadent western things!

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