The 91 abuses: Who is abusing who—or what

Why the PMO might be too busy to take the measure of Covid deaths, migrant deaths, farmers' deaths, Chinese-occupied Indian territories, electoral bonds, PM CARES, MSME shutdowns, and more

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: Getty Images)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: Getty Images)

Avay Shukla

These days, my reading consists mainly of books with titles like ‘Ten Secrets of Living to be a Hundred’ or ‘Seven Things You Must Do Before You Die’.

There was a time, however, when one read more exciting stuff, most of which have now faded into the mists of forgetfulness. But I do remember one book in which a lady tells her lover: "You don't make love to a woman, you make love at her."

Pause, dear reader, and consider the import of these words, and the difference a single preposition can make to a sentiment. ‘To’ implies conversation, affection, concern, a sharing of experience. ‘At’, on the other hand, denotes a one-way communication, a selfishness, a lack of concern for the other. But, you may well ask, why mention this now?

Because I am reminded of this every time I hear our venerable Prime Minister speak, whether it is at a choreographed public rally, in the sanitised environs of a Maan ki Baat, or in the incense-burning portals of a TV studio where he is treated like the presiding deity and the high priest both. His exhortations are always about what he thinks, what he feels, what he wants, what he considers is good for the nation, and so on. The public—that is, you and me and ours—never ever features in his sermons, for we don't even exist for him; his total involvement is with the lights, cameras and tele-prompters (when they work, that is).

But some good can come of even this rodomontade: the Prime Minister's lament at a rally in Karnataka last week that he has been abused precisely 91 times by other parties has cleared up one big mystery for me, one that had been dogging my waking hours and haunting the sleeping ones. I now finally know the reason why the government has no data on Covid deaths, migrant deaths during the great exodus from cities, farmers' deaths during their agitation, how much area the Chinese are occupying in Ladakh, contributors to the electoral bonds and PM CARES, how many MSMEs had to shut down post demonetisation and GST, and other important matters.

Until the Prime Minister spoke at the conscripted crowds in Bangalore, I had thought that the government was simply trying to conceal this information. But now I know better.

The real reason is that the entire Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was occupied in collating data on the abuses hurled at the PM. And that's not an easy job, you know: one has to keep tabs on every abuse in print and on digital media, in social media and at public rallies, The New York Times and the Washington Post, by Kunal Kamra and by Satya Pal Malik. Then one has to consult the Oxford dictionary, Shehjad Poonawalla and Sambit Patra (both acknowledged authorities in this genre of communication) to grade the gravity of the invective, trace the progenitor of said abuse and dispatch the Income Tax or Enforcement Directorate to disabuse them of the idea that they can make it a habit. And finally, the tele-prompter has to be fed the inputs correctly for the next prime ministerial rally—we cannot have the TP suggesting "bugger" when what was intended was "burglar", can we? Though both can be termed as abuses.

It's a big operation, this, and so there must be either a working group or a joint secretary in the PMO working exclusively on this important assignment. If the former, then my vast experience in government tells me that it would probably be called Abusers (Hard) Working Group. Such avant-garde units are not easy to name, as we discovered in Shimla in the ’80s.

At that time, the monkeys (the real, Rhesus variety, not the ones affiliated to a certain organisation) had practically taken over the Himachal Pradesh government secretariat: they had free run of the place, disposed of more files than all the secretaries put together, and had even started attending Cabinet meetings. This last bit is speculation, of course, but based on the clear simian imprints on some of the Cabinet decisions taken at that time.

Finally, when the monkeys attempted to unfurl the national flag on the secretariat roof, it was decided to set up a committee of senior secretaries to examine the matter and give recommendations to put an end to the menace. The committee was notified by the section officer (general administration department), but it was some time before we noticed that it was called Committee of Monkeys, instead of Committee on Monkeys. The same preposition problem, you will notice. All the members resigned, of course, lest this honour make its way into their curriculum vitae and blight their future chances of promotion. The section officer was suspended, of course, for his Monkey Baat.

But it's possible that the PMO doesn't have a committee devoted to abuses but, instead, a joint secretary to handle it. If so, he would probably be designated Joint Secretary (Abuses), and that brings to mind another designative double entendre concerning President Abraham Lincoln.

One day a Kentucky farmer, accompanied by his wife and teenage son, called on Lincoln. On being admitted to the President's presence, he pompously introduced himself thus: "Good morning, Mister President. I am Mister Bates, this here is my wife Missis Bates, and my son Master Bates."

"Now, does he?" asked Lincoln, "have you shown him to a doctor? It's not a good habit, you know."

See the complexities in finding suitable appellations and designations? For if the joint secretary (abuses), I shudder to imagine what the secretary does.

The author is a retired IAS office. Views are personal.

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