Hero or villain? Fabulist or realist? Well, what is he? He must be something as he’s on the cover of TIME.

ByAnand Ranganathan
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A mongoose is a strange animal. In the wild it lives largely underground, spending a considerable chunk of its time constructing large burrow complexes that are as gawk-worthy as any of the upcoming mega-commercial projects you come across from Ahmedabad to Greater Noida. In the cities, you can see it scampering about open drains of unauthorised colonies. But, people like the mongoose. Grandmothers speak of its back-to-the-wall scraps with the cobra, of its bloodied nose and bloodshot eyes and way of digging its teeth deep into its slithering thrashing enemy. A mongoose has bravado and because of this it is also narcissistic, and so it likes to parade around the battle scene much like a triumphant boxer. It knows no fear, has no sense of right or wrong and feels no remorse for its victim. The mongoose likes to move on.

Man too is a strange animal. He is narcissistic, knows no fear, and like the mongoose wants to move on. But man is not strange because of these qualities. No. Man is strange because he refuses to believe that he is an animal, because he demands what he calls ‘justice’, because he believes that the evil among his tribe will be punished.

There is a telling scene in the film Gandhi – its authenticity also referenced in the book Mohandas – where, at a meeting called to discuss Bapu’s decision to shelve the Non-Cooperation Movement in the aftermath of the Chauri Chaura incident, Nehru pleads: “But, Bapu, this is too drastic. The movement is a resounding success; the Brits are on their knees…and just because five policemen were killed you are calling off the whole thing?!” There is a moment of silence. Patel concurs emotionally while Jinnah’s poker eye stares through the monocle. Bapu says: “Tell that to the widows of those five policemen; you do that.” Historians may debate the effect the Non-Cooperation Movement may have had on the oppressor’s psyche had it continued unabated with the same vigour with which it was launched. But the fact remains that India got Independence precisely twenty five years after that one single sentence was uttered.

Men who are brave walk alone, but not those who have bravado – these men need a gang, a squad of like-minded people who see eye-to-eye but are blind to their leader’s failings; and onwards and upwards moves this bandwagon, from city to city, state to state, country to country, strength to strength. All along the route, for every man who shouts and screams, “Injustice!” there are a hundred who say “What nonsense!” For every man who feels for the widows of those five policemen, there are a thousand who shout him down with cries of, “The movement must go on! WE must move on!” For every woman who wants to be a mobile republic, there are a million who want their republic to have mobiles, and cars and washing machines and mining leases.

Injustice? What injustice? Pop into a lab if you want to see injustice; stand and stare at the rat who ekes out a pitiful cream-coloured dropping soon as its peritoneum is jabbed with a cruel needle; watch the guinea pig just before he’s about to become a guinea pig; admire the monkey who pretends death in case it is pulled out and sacrificed for a data point.

So, you! Don’t cry injustice simply because man has killed man. Don’t just stand there distributing pamphlets, don’t run after vrooming cars and thump your boots in anger, don’t stand on soapboxes and pretend that all this is happening for the first time. Don’t tell me you weren’t there in the hall clapping when Kissinger got the Nobel Prize; cheering and hooting when Begin bowed his head and accepted the same ‘honour’? Don’t tell me you didn’t study on scholarships named after those who pillaged whole nations and continents; didn’t get yourself clicked in front of buildings made by men who had their hands chopped off afterwards; didn’t take medicines that were tested on animals; haven’t worked on computers that use mined metals; or read tomes furnished out of chopped forests. Don’t tell me you haven’t stood by and watched bombs be dropped, countries invaded and indigenous tribes filmed. Where were you hiding when Bartolome told the truth about those marauding conquistadors, when Fisk screamed hoarse about the unjust wars over oil and empires, when Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in disgust? The Belgians were in the Congo, but where were you!? Oh, yes, you were right here, and you read and you listened and you watched, and then you moved on. You were busy ridiculing the Annas while tolerating the real Big Brothers. It was you who let the wheels of justice grind slowly. You who said nothing when, step-by-step, bureaucrat-by-bureaucrat, evidence was changed, removed, burnt, fabricated, when witnesses were coerced, lawyers were threatened, activists lampooned, reporters ridiculed. You did it all and then moved on.

Is he a hero or a villain? A Caesar or a Nero? A fabulist or a realist? Well, what is he? He must be something as he’s on the cover of TIME.

The piercing eyes, the proud profile, the write-up, they all want you to weigh the man – on the left pan he sits cross-legged, contemplative, while on the right are stacked Nanos and FDI and highways and skylines and mega-commercial centres and growth and development. Is it TIME, like the mongoose, to move on?

A man is innocent until proven guilty. Guilty are those who haven’t yet passed the verdict.

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