We are coming to the end of a truly Orwellian year, when the absurd became the new normal and one in which comedians told us the truth while the media joined the chorus about the emperor's new clothes.
For comics it was a double whammy; not only were they rendered redundant by politicians who spouted irony, they may lose their liberty for showing us the elephant in the room.
What can be more absurd than gangsters going to Parliament and gagsters to prison, more unjust than the Supreme Court taking up a lapdog journalist's petition in a day while sitting for months on issues of national importance, more ironic than the ruling party ranting against Pakistan but doing everything to convert India into a mirror image of that country.
Contempt of citizens
Invert this truth into a sarcastic Tweet and you can end up sharing your cell with stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, who faces that predicament as he is all set to be charged with contempt of court for taking a dig at the apex court. Yes, in this country where justices prevail rather than justice, the judiciary can take offence at virtually anything, except the contempt of citizens.
The year began with the attack on JNU in Delhi by a masked mob. It was repeated the following month, this time by cops in uniform, at the Aligarh Muslim University. The underlying reason was their opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act, a clear case of discrimination against Muslims. Behind these two acts of vandalism were the same people who blame Islamic invaders for razing the ancient university of Taxila.
Soon, Trump came visiting with Covid in Europe but publicity rather than pandemic was uppermost on our minds. It took another month and 12 Covid deaths in India for the PM to announce a national lockdown. The nation, however, was given just a four-hour notice; no doubt a classic case of the PM's 'minimum government and maximum governance'. Meanwhile, the bonhomie during Namaste India evaporated in two months, with Trump publicly threatening India for refusing to part with hydroxychloroquine.
Optics over basics
Instead of hiking the paltry health budget, the PM had us clang utensils to express solidarity with the health workers in the forefront of the fight against Corona. It is another matter that half these doctors were not being paid on time and that the families of fallen 'corona warriors' found the government dragging its feet on the promised compensation. Optics over basics.
When the pandemic showed no signs of abating, the PM shifted the onus of combating Covid to the states, that too, without their share of the GST. So much for his promise on cooperative federalism.
The plight of millions of migrant workers and their families footing it to their villages moved the entire country – who didn’t shed a tear at the visual of a child tugging at his dead mother -- but not the Pradhan Sevak. No 'mann ki baat' or 'chai pe charcha' with those who needed it the most. Cold-hearted calculations over compassion.
The government of the PM who promised deliverance from 'bhay, bhookh aur bhrashtachar’ said it had no information on the number of migrant workers who had lost their lives or their jobs. The ruling party suddenly acknowledged their existence before the Bihar polls, promising them free Covid vaccine. And all norms of social distancing were forgotten at election rallies. Congress-'mukt' Bharat over Covid-'mukt' Bharat.
Mum's the word
The PM who derided his predecessor as 'Maun-Mohan' remains mum on holding a press conference. He also dodges questions in Parliament, which he calls the temple of democracy. The monsoon session of Parliament, convened after considerable delay, did away with Question Hour.
Now, days after laying the foundation stone for a new Parliament house and extolling the virtues of dialogue in democracy, the Modi government, citing the pandemic, has done away with the winter session.
Bills are passed in a hurry with the cameras switched off and when citizens affected by the half-baked laws protest, they are branded anti-nationals and urban Naxals. Those supporting them are called 'sickular' or 'libtards'. The formula backfired when protesting farmers were called Khalistanis. (How did they miss 'turban naxals'!)
And who are these super-patriots labeling others anti-national? The same set of people who were stooges of the British during the Independence struggle.
'Too much of a democracy'
Given the aversion to truth, it is difficult to believe that our national motto -- taken from the Mundaka Upanishad – is Satyamev Jayate (Truth alone triumphs).
The current dispensation's attitude towards governance was inadvertently let out by Amitabh Kant, CEO of the Niti Ayog, who said that we were "too much of a democracy" to carry out tough reforms. "Sabka saath, sabka vikas" is just a 'jumla'. The real beneficiaries are the capitalists: "Inka labh zindabad!".
Of 'vikas' there's no sign; demonetisation and GST having shaved three percentage points off the GDP. Vikas, as the memes said, was finally found in Ujjain. No one asked CM Yogi Adityanath how a gangster had the gumption to gun down eight cops despite his 'encounter' policy. Now it's a crusade against 'love jihad' for this wannabe Modi.
The man is so hung up on changing 'Islamic' names that he renamed the upcoming Mughal museum near the Taj Mahal after Shivaji. Hope he also realises that the economy is in a mess today because his leader is managing the monetary policy like Mohammed bin Tughlak.
On his recent visit to Mumbai, Adityanath invited Bollywood to set up shop in UP when it is being humiliated day after day by the government.
No one asks the obvious questions. Instead, the 'godi' media spent three months trying to establish that Sushant Singh Rajput was murdered and that the Uddhav Thackeray government was trying to hush it up. News TV was competing with Netflix thrillers.
Such is the BJP's headline management skill that no fuss was kicked up on October 2 when Godse, instead of Gandhi, was trending on Twitter. Last year on Gandhi Jayanti, the PM, who as the Gujarat CM in 2002, found no use for the Mahatma, penned an op-ed piece in the New York Times: 'Why India and the world need Gandhi'.
With such doublespeak as the order of the day, with dissenters being booked under draconian laws, with yesmen trying to outdo each other and a pliant media singing hosannas for the PM, it is only comics and cartoonists who bring us to reality. They are the little child who says that the emperor has a wardrobe malfunction.
And here's the supreme irony; Modi himself is for satire and humour in daily life. In 2017, addressing the 47th anniversary of Tamil magazine Thuglaq, founded by the late Cho Ramaswamy, the PM said humour was the “best healer" and that the power of a smile or laughter is more powerful than abuse or any other weapon.
Maybe he also needs to hear this G B Shaw quote: "My way of joking is to tell the truth; it's the funniest joke in the world."
The writer is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.