Flutter of the butterfly’s wings

Published March 12, 2024
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

ABOUT dialectics, the rulebook says, any two phenomena in the big world are related in a range of ways. “The flapping of the wings of a butterfly can be felt on the other side of the world”, goes a Chinese proverb.

Ponder the unstated coincidence between what some analysts see as terse greetings Prime Minister Narendra Modi exchanged with his Pakistani counterpart for a second term, and the doubling of Indian troops on the Sino-Indian border.

Consider another example of the butterfly flapping its wings. There is no overt link between Pakistan’s parliament vetoing the dispatch of troops to Yemen requisitioned by the Saudis and the UAE, and the construction of a new grand temple to Hindu deities in Abu Dhabi. But then again, what if there is an invisible link?

Let’s begin, though, with Robyn Rihanna Fenty’s concert in Jamnagar, and see if it eased India’s quandary with accusations from allies that its agents plotted to kill Sikh separatists in the US and Canada.

The Barbadian singer arrived with her band at Jamnagar’s hurriedly assembled and short-lived international airport. She left smiling, amid ceaseless applause, with her emblematic bag of gold. The performance at the politically connected tycoon’s party would continue to make headlines for days on India’s TV channels. The music was entertainment for the elite guests. Was her silence on the farmers’ struggle this time around an oversight, or a Faustian bargain? Let’s also look at the possibility that it was no such thing.

Was Rihanna’s silence on the farmers’ struggle this time around an oversight or a Faustian bargain?

A different take on Rihanna’s music and politics came from India’s alternate media as usual. It’s no gainsaying that Western musicians have often soared in popularity through their politics — Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and Bob Marley come to mind. The crowd-funded NewsLaundury portal played clips of the day when Rihanna made a tweet to support the farmers in Punjab who, like today, had gathered on the outskirts of Delhi two years ago.

Their demands for a minimum support price offered for the harvest by previous governments was acceded to, verbally and grudgingly, by Mr Modi — a rare achievement. But it was never followed up with actual implementation. Angry farmers are back on the highway to Delhi, accusing Mr Modi of seeking to stuff their crops into the silos of the corporate financiers of BJP. The absence of state subsidy makes them vulnerable to the predators, the farmers say.

In their 2021 run-in with the government, Rihanna had riled and rattled the Modi establishment. “Why aren’t we talking about this?!” she had said in a Twitter post, sharing a CNN article on the demonstrations with her 100 million-plus followers, using the hashtag #FarmersProtest.

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg had followed Rihanna and posted the same CNN article, expressing solidarity with the protesting farmers. Thunberg was promptly decried by India’s ‘WhatsApp University’ as a plotter against the country. The irony, according to TV clips played by NewsLaundry, was that leading anchors who sang paeans to Rihanna last week were describing her as an anti-Indian mascot of global haters of India in 2021. To be clear, India-haters for the current crop of Indian anchors include the home-grown ones — the so-called tukde-tukde gang they invented, comprising student activists; organised Dalits, and worried intellectuals; several of whom are languishing in jail without trial.

There’s always the odd judge, though, willing to stand up to the challenge. One such set free G.N. Saibaba last week, albeit 10 years too late. The 90 per cent-crippled English teacher at Delhi University was charged with five others of being Maoist. They were abused, as Rihanna was, for the moral stand they took against flourishing cronyism that drives the government’s policies, including its approach to farmers.

And the farmers being overwhelmingly Sikhs from Punjab are given the treatment TV channels reserve for Modi’s trenchant critics. They are Khalistani, anti-national terrorists, goes the chorus. The rants claim unproven links with Sikh separatists abroad, the kind the US says Indian agents plotted to kill. Rihanna’s silence couldn’t un-ring the bell from her two-year old tweet, but it may have prevented needless exacerbations.

As India braces for its most crucial election since independence, The Wire quoted a BJP activist the other day as saying that the party was eyeing 400-plus seats to have the numbers to change the constitution. The curious resignation the other day of one of its two remaining election commissioners has tweaked the possibility in Mr Modi’s favour. The poll body is left with just the chief election commissioner. His two assistants would be virtually handpicked by the prime minister, according to a bizarre law enacted by his government.

It’s a fact that Mr Modi harbours all the ambitions his mentors in the RSS have prescribed to make India a Hindu rashtra. He has tried every trick in the trade to undermine the opposition and put it on the back foot. Induced defections, communal catcalls, revenue raids on opposition heads, street violence against minority groups, and the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya seem to not add up electorally.

Tested methods have included the Muzaffarnagar violence to polarise critical votes in Uttar Pradesh in 2014. In 2019, he exploited the military stand-off with Pakistan. Could the increased deployment of troops on the China border be the ace up his sleeve? Mr Modi’s relations with the Sharif family have not been unfriendly, not to forget the unannounced stopover as their guest. The absence of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari as foreign minister should help. Are relations so surefooted that troops could be moved to the Chinese front from the western border facing Pakistan, as reports suggest?

A flutter of the butterfly’s wings would be enough to declare victory, given the pliant media, without a bullet being fired. As for the over-advertised temple in the UAE and endless embraces, could these not be sullen messages to Pakistan for letting the team down against the Houthis?

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2024

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