Monkeying around with the census, consensus and con-sensus
Himachal missed out on the caste carnival, primarily because it has only two dominant castes — government employees and apple orchardists. So it has opted for a monkey census, writes Avay Shukla
The current flavour of the season is Census, not to be confused with Consensus, which is a con job on a census, as witnessed recently in the DD (Delhi Declaration) of the G20. A census is basically a count, and the DD was a count of those nations who resolved to do nothing on any issue of global importance, as I have explained at some length in an earlier blog.
Which is why the DD was a Con-census, regardless of what our Vocal for Local favourite Sherpa may call it. And even as I write this, a similar Con-sensus appears to be emerging about the Israel-Hamas conflict in the global North. And India, as the self-appointed leader of the global South, in the best traditions of Indian politics, has decided to defect to the North, as 20 million of its citizens have already done. But I digress.
The central government gave a miss to the decadal census which was due in 2021, possibly because it was too busy counting the banknotes which returned to the banks after demonetisation, or perhaps the banknotes which did NOT so return after the NPA birds had flown the coop.
Whatever the reason, we will now never know whether there was a dip in the population post-demonetisation (because every joker and his wife were standing in ATM queues instead of being tucked up in bed), or a bump in the population post the lockdown (because every joker and the neighbour's wife were in bed instead of toiling in the office). We will get to know only when Ms Kangana Ranaut gives us her views, which may take some time as she is currently preoccupied with dissecting the war in the Middle East.
But, just as nature abhors a vacuum, a census abhors a zero; as Confucius told the guy who invented zero — thanks for nothing! And so our Opposition parties have decided that they will now conduct a caste census in their states, a kind of mini decadal census, to find out the number of BCs (Backward Castes), OBCs (Other Backward Castes), and EBCs (Extremely Backward Castes). The SOBs will be counted after the elections.
Bihar has already done it and released the results, Karnataka too has finished it but is sitting on the results which it will announce at "an appropriate time", Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh have also said they shall do it soon. This has been dubbed as Mandal-2, a sequel to the original blockbuster Mandal-1.
The entire exercise is like a salami-slicing of society till the original sausage is unrecognisable. The BJP is not elated about this, not because it prefers sausages whole, but because it holds the exclusive IPR and monopoly on dividing society. It does this through religion, but has been outflanked by the Opposition's use of caste to do something similar.
We have now gone through the entire gamut of division and ghetto-isation, having used everything possible to fragment the country — religion, regionalism, language, festivals, clothes, food, occupations. All that remains now is to do a sub-census of the upper castes (Brahmins, Rajputs, Jats, Marathas) who comprise about 20-25 per cent of the population nationally, and tribals, and India will then resemble a piece of Emmentaler cheese, more holes than cheese. The only organism which thrives in this type of cheese is bacteria, which is an apt description for our politicians, you will agree.
But, unfortunately, my own state, Himachal Pradesh, has been left out of this caste carnival. The state does not have a caste issue, primarily because it has only two dominant castes — government employees and apple orchardists — and between them, they control the economy and the politics. Everyone is happy except Preity Zinta (who has left for the USA) and Kangana Ranaut (who is happiest when she is unhappy with something, which is most things).
So, not to be left out, the Himachal government has now decided to conduct a census of monkeys in the state, as announced this week by its forest department. Only "bona-fide" monkeys (those who were settled here before 1974) would be counted, not the "domiciled" ones (those residing in the state for 15 years) because the latter would already have been counted in places like Karol Bagh, Kotkapura, Surat and Asansol.
The author of this piece officially belongs to the domiciled category, by the way, even though I have been swinging on trees in Himachal for the last 50 years and look alarmingly like an aged Rhesus monkey. But rules are rules and "show me the face and I'll show you the rule" doesn't work on this one, unfortunately.
Why a census of monkeys, you may well ask, and since I am not an RTI commissioner, I shall give you the answer. The government feels monkeys harass tourists, particularly in Shimla, and have converted the Jakhoo hill into a banana republic, literally. They also destroy crops and indulge in gorilla warfare with the villagers.
The forest department has been sterilising monkeys since 2004, with greater success than Sanjay Gandhi's efforts with their cousins: their population has reportedly declined from 3.17 lakh in 2004 to 1.36 lakh in 2019.
But I have my reservations. For one, the monkeys are better behaved than the tourists, and I feel it's the latter who should be sterilised instead. Two, apes best exemplify the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest, and catching the remaining 1.36 lakh will be tougher than catching a cold in hell or catching Amit Malviya telling the truth.
By the time I retired from the forest department the simians could recognise every official in the department, from forest guards to DFOs, as well as their vehicle numbers, and disappeared the moment they spotted the long arm of the law, somewhat like our women development minister vanishes whenever an atrocity is committed on a woman.
Three, according to the (gr)ape-vine, the monkeys are enthused by the frequent rallying cry of "Jai Bajrangbali" and the Hanuman of the TV series Ramayana being allotted a ticket for the elections in Madhya Pradesh, and have decided to contest the next elections. Their reasoning is that they should enter the fray directly instead of being used as proxies and intermediaries, something I believe Mr Adani is also seriously considering. That has the sitting MLAs worried: they can no langur take their seats for granted, hence the need for the final solution of sterilisation.
However, I'm an optimist. The original and rightful denizens of Jakhoo have survived the Gorkhas, the British, the BJP, the Congress, Uncle Chipps and the guy from Kotkapura. They will live to cock a snook at the last of the inappropriately named homo sapiens when the inevitable apocalypse happens — census, consensus or con-sensus notwithstanding.
Avay Shukla is a retired IAS officer and author of The Deputy Commissioner’s Dog and Other Colleagues. He blogs at avayshukla.blogspot.com