The Great Indian Illegitimate
In 1963, the Indian peacock – well, technically the peafowl (Pavo cristatus) – was designated as the national bird of India. But in 1962, when the choice of a national bird of India was under consideration, it was another bird that was the leading candidate. Writing in the Newsletter for Birdwatchers, legendary ornithologist Salim Ali pointed out that at the 12th world conference of the International Council for Bird Preservation in Tokyo in 1961, the criterion for choosing a national bird was to “focus interest and solicitude on a particular species of bird in each country that stood in need of cooperative protection from the public to save it from extinction”. In Ali’s expert reckoning, this bird for India should be the Great Indian Bustard.
The Bustard was ultimately dropped in favour of the Indian Peafowl and one reason cited for this switch was that the Bustard had the potential for being misspelt. Writing this from my study (read: red sofa) in Mayur Vihar, I’m pretty convinced that more than worrying about the Bustard being misspelt, what made our worthies opt for the Peacock was the mortal fear of uttering the word “Bustard”. And uttering the word, if and when required, in Parliament would have been tantamount to making the Indian Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur), as opposed to the Wild Indian Ass, the national animal of India. So peacock/peafowl it was while the poor Bustard languished in the corner.
Fifty years after the Bustard was given the short shrift, we have been rocked by another dodgy word, but this one has crept into Parliament. “Illegitimate” is that blasphemous word.
On the face of it, LK Advani’s use of the word “illegitimate” on the opening day of the monsoon session in Parliament sounds harmless enough. My Concise Oxford English Dictionary tells me that the first meaning of “illegitimate” as an adjective is “not authorised by the law; not in accordance with accepted standards or rules” – as in, “defending workers against illegitimate managerial practices”. But then comes the second meaning: “(of a child) born of parents not lawfully married to each other”. And once you hit upon its meaning when “illegitimate” as a noun – “a person who is illegitimate by birth” – we’re on serious Great Indian Bustard terrain.
Advani, these days an endangered species of one, had stated in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday that the “UPA 2 is illegitimate…It has never happened in the history of India… crores of rupees were never spent to get votes”. This statement immediately led to the confirmation of three things:
1) Sonia Gandhi’s presence in Parliament that day was not restricted to her usually pre-recorded holographic presence because she was reacting in real-time.
2) Sonia Gandhi was pissed off with Advani’s use of the word “illegitimate”, which I presume is the word when she was seen telling the Opposition benches, “Withdraw! Withdraw one word! Withdraw!”
3) Pranab Mukherjee is no longer a member of Parliament.
After Advani’s Great Indian Dastardly statement, familiar parliamentary ruckus followed which led to the Speaker adjourning the House and Advani’s references to the UPA being “illegitimate” being wiped off the records. (Although why some newspapers pussy-footed when it came to reproducing Advani’s contentious statement for the consumption of the unparliamentary world outside is a mystery. None of them, as far as I recall, doubles as a parliamentary gazette.) LKA went on to explain that he had referred to the UPA 1’s 2008 “nuclear deal” confidence vote and not to UPA 2’s 2009 electoral behaviour. An explanation that would have made sense only if UPA 2 had preceded UPA 1.
So what exact notion of “illegitimate” irked Sonia Gandhi so much as to make her be possessed by Pranab Mukherjee’s angry ghost? It would seem that the Congress being accused of paying money for trust votes in 2008 – something “not authorised by the law; not in accordance with accepted standards or rules” – was the trigger.
But hold on. The BJP had famously accused the Congress of this grievous charge before, when its members had put up the “cash-for-votes” show in Parliament just before the 2008 trust-vote. There are records of the Supreme Court case that followed to determine whether this was a case of whistleblowing or an entrapment. (Not surprisingly, we still don’t know whether money actually crossed hands in exchange of the “nuclear” votes.)
So, my money is not on the horse that says that Sonia Gandhi flew off the handle because her party was – yet again! – accused of extending their tenure by unlawful methods. Methinks the faeces hit those tilted wall fans in Parliament hall because Advani had just hurled the most unparliamentary word at the Congress in Parliament. So what if he hurled it in its more palatable form?
A lawyer friend of mine recently asked me whether I could help him by digging out the worst possible meaning in a phrase that had been hurled at his client.
“He wants to charge him with what?”, I asked.
“So what did the guy call him?”
“Teri maa ki aankh”, my friend replied.
“Hmm. ‘Your mother’s eye’?”
“Tricky one, considering it doesn’t seem like a gaali when it’s spread out before you.”
“Yes, but I have to find something unsavoury in it.”
“Go for the ‘Maa’ bit’, I said after thinking a bit. “Your client’s mother was mentioned for no reason and that has left him mentally battered. The word ‘Maa…’ when said with a certain force can conjure up all the other ‘Maa-mother’ gaalis that sprung in your client’s head when he heard the other man.”
“Yes, that might just work”, said my friend with a skip in his voice and the rustle of his client’s fees ringing in his ears.
What a rotten bastard!