"Shakespeare's Vision of the Improbale" Unfolds: Is Modi Today's Macbeth?
HOW can we tell that Birnam Wood is moving on
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to lift a metaphor from William Shakespeare? The
signs are there.
Start with his foreign forays. Modi's closest Israeli
buddy, once an invincible prime minister in whom he saw a mirror image of
himself, has been slapped with corruption charges. Netanyahu's future is in a
Modi's Saudi hero is selling his family jewels, starting
with the massive American oil company, after a humiliating and costly defeat in
Yemen. Modi's American soulmate, Donald Trump, is going to be impeached any
time now and could be unseated in next year's elections.
The right-wing MPs from Europe were ushered into Kashmir
to get goodness knows what certificate of democratic prudence. The European
right is watching with bated breath the rise of Jeremy Corbyn who Modi's
British supporters have been instructed to help defeat.
Closer home, angry students are out on the streets,
joined by ordinary sympathisers of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). They may
be protesting against a hostel fee hike but are actually fighting fascist
attempts to dismantle the robustly independent university. Modi knows how the
tinderbox works. He knows it because in 1973, as an ordinary worker of the
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), he took the first step towards power by
harnessing another volatile student's agitation in Gujarat. He funnelled the
raging anger into the nationwide JP movement against Indira Gandhi.
rulers are plunging the knife every day into the heart of a trusting democracy
that gave them their unbridled powers.
JNU is more than a tinderbox, of course. It is the
intellectual springboard for a politically and socially inclusive India. It has
courted Faiz with Nehru, Mao with Gandhi, Ambedkar with Marx. It has accepted
right-wing ideologues, and tamed them. On his first visit to JNU as foreign
minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, caught himself committing to JNU's anti-nuclear
stance. "You opposed the bomb. So we have dropped it," he said with humour that
remains alien to Modi.
This year's winner of the Nobel Prize for economics not
only cut his academic teeth at JNU, but he spent time in Tihar jail as JNU
students often do for standing up to autocrats. A blind student was beaten in
the ongoing protests, and how did he respond? He tunefully recited Habib Jalib. "Aisey dastoor ko subh-i-benoor ko mein nahi manta…" (I do not have faith in
your system that panders to people living in palaces.) Jalib was tortured and
jailed for his insouciance. That's why right-wing governments don't like
ordinary people of the two countries to come close.
A more ominous sign for Modi comes from Maharashtra, a
political dynamo of a state. Perhaps it's the worst of the pick for him for
this is where a bitter fight has broken out between two right-wing
Muslim-baiting former Hindutva allies - Modi's BJP and the Shiv Sena. The
potential for trouble for the prime minister is pervasive. It brings to mind in
several ways the critical last act in Macbeth. Did we see Birnam Wood move
closer to the invincible castle in recent days? Shakespeare's Macbeth had
murdered the king who gave him his epaulets. India's rulers are plunging the
knife every day into the heart of a trusting democracy that gave them their
unbridled powers. Maharashtra is only the latest victim of Modi's seething
But Shakespeare's witches - an emblem of the worst
ambitions that lurk deep within us - were merely equivocating fiends, after
all, saying one thing to Macbeth and meaning quite another. They showed the
general his dream of power but saved the usurper's nightmare for another day.
They assured the fallible hero of his invincibility by promising him complete
safety until the Birnam Woods moved towards his Dunsinane Castle, which Macbeth
unintelligently and hurriedly considered an improbability. Then the rival
soldiers cut the trees of the Birnam Wood to camouflage their move on his
Shakespeare's vision of the improbable may be unfolding
in Maharashtra, a region that laid low the mighty Aurangzeb, an area that saw
the golden era of Girni Kamgar mill worker's leftist unions and the rise of
their foil the Shiv Sena. This is the region that spawned the social
egalitarianism of Dalit hero Bhimrao Ambedkar. It is the state that
consolidated the Brahminical reaction to Nehru's and Gandhi's promise of a
multicultural and multi-religious India. The RSS first sprouted roots of its
Brahminical fascism here as did its challengers, led by mediaeval Sant Tukaram.
The handy thing about the Shiv Sena is that iwt cannot
be remotely threatened as an agent of Pakistan nor can it be accused of
appeasing Muslims. Therefore, war drums on the border with Pakistan may benumb
most rivals of Prime Minister Modi, beginning with the Congress.
A communally tinctured canard about the kidnapping of a
girl from this community by that, as was once spread in Muzaffarnagar to the
tale-carrier's political advantage, could derail the opponent with a hustled
Hindu nationalist narrative. That won't cut any ice with the Shiv Sena or its
Chandrasena Kayastha Prabhu leader and his Maratha flock of militant peasant
Shiv Sena chief Udhav Thackeray had delinked himself
from Modi's party after fighting the recent state elections together. He was
going to become the chief minister of Maharashtra with the support of his
erstwhile secular foes, including the Congress. But then, in a pre-dawn coup of
sorts, a Brahmin supported by the prime minister and the RSS, and also possibly
dear to the powerful Mumbai business clique, was hurriedly sworn in at daybreak
while newspaper headlines were describing the anointment of Thackeray.
Peasants in India have a history of fighting the most
powerful states exploiting them, not different from the history of medieval
Europe. The Marathas and Sikhs were a handful for the zealous Aurangzeb and
also his distant successors, the British. They could be divided but not
defeated. The witches' brew is bubbling in the cauldron, and they are singing
something to themselves.