Last Sunday Parliament held a special session to commemorate sixty years of its existence. About fifteen years ago Parliament had held a special session to mark the half century of India's Indpepnedence. A brief comparison of the mood prevalent in both these sessions is instructive. Fifteen years ago at the end of the debate Parliament unanimously passed a resolution to struggle for India’s Second Freedom. To achieve it the Agenda for India was formulated. The Agenda sought an end to communalism, casteism, criminalization and corruption. In his speech the Prime Minister of the day Mr. Inder Kumar Gujral urged all members to struggle for the success of the agenda even if that meant passive resistance on the streets and going to jail. The whole gathering of both Houses clapped. Things last Sunday were a little different.
The overriding concern of members was to preserve the supremacy and dignity of the House by avoiding unseemly disruptions and misconduct. No member offered any concrete suggestions for ending casteism, communalism, criminalization or corruption. Most speakers sought greater caste, community or gender representation. Currently the issue of maintaining supremacy which united members across parties appeared to be a cartoon featuring BS Ambedkar published in a government text book. All members objected to the publication of the cartoon and the government’s ministers apologized to the House while promising to delete the offending cartoon from all text books. Parliament could not have chosen a worse issue to unite all members. It could not have chosen a more glaring example to betray the ignorance and incompetence of all its members.
The controversy did not arise from a flash of emotion. It was deliberately thought out. Days before the Ambedkar cartoon controversy the MPs’ Parliamentary Forum on children approached the government to demand that all cartoons should be withdrawn from text books. They did not want political leaders to be displayed in cartoons. I will not dwell upon the particular cartoon of Ambedkar and Nehru drawn by the Father of Indian Cartooning, KP Shankar Pillay, sixty years ago. Nor will I reiterate the fact mentioned by many that the cartoon was complimenting both Ambedkar and Nehru. I would rather draw attention to a more basic question.
Do our politicians know what a cartoon signifies? A cartoon like an article is a medium of expression. No more, no less. An article has greater scope to delineate on a problem to expand comment. A cartoon condenses comment through a single visual with perhaps an added brief caption. It has greater scope than an article to create an instantaneous and powerful impact. Also, a cartoon mixes entertainment with comment by generally using wit and satire. That is why some have described a cartoon in terms of its impact to be worth a thousand words. However, although relying on wit and satire a cartoon is not, repeat not, a vehicle necessarily to denigrate personalities. In fact some of the greatest compliments to personalities have been paid through cartoons.
Recall the masterpiece by America’s legendry cartoonist, Herblock of the Washington Post, who drew a cartoon on the death of Einstein. He simply displayed the galaxy with the earth at the centre. On the earth was planted a signpost saying: “Albert Einstein lived here!” Or recall that memorable cartoon by Vicky in the New Statesman after Labour leader Anuerin Bevan complained that he could not attend a disarmament conference because he felt naked as long as Britain did not have the Bomb. The cartoon showed Mahatma Gandhi up in heaven in loin cloth telling Bevan that he always attended conferences half naked without facing any problem! After Nehru died I drew a cartoon showing the map of India as a multitude of people. At the heart of the map was a large empty space indicating the outline of Nehru’s profile. The cartoon was captioned: “The Void.” Would the honourable MPs object to any of these cartoons appearing in text books for children? Today’s children are very well informed because of the information revolution. Today’s MPs are ignorant despite the information revolution.