'There is space for many faces and many tongues in this Republic of ours. But it only has one Constitution, and its citizens are vigilant,' says Mitali Saran.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
Janus is that striking two-headed Roman god whose faces represent duality and transition: One face looking to the past, one to the present; one inward, one outward; one to war, one to peace.
Inevitably, he also stands for the two-faced, one presenting one thing, and the other its opposite.
Janus has a horribly real contemporary: The Government of India.
The prime minister stood up at the World Economic Forum in Davos and said some very amazing things.
He told the world that we believe in non-violence and have always opposed terrorism in all its forms and facets, and that there is such thing as good and bad terrorists.
He said that we only believe in linking people, not in breaking them and dividing them.
He said that without peace, progress and prosperity is not possible.
He said that in India openness, predictable policy and rule of law is ensured.
He said that climate change was a great danger.
He said that he who controls data controls the world.
Thinking Indians will be forgiven for coming over a bit faint from all the irony.
Back in the non-violent, law-abiding, open for business motherland, in four non-violent, law-abiding, open for business states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, Janus' other face was red and angry and maliciously manipulative.
The heretofore irrelevant Karni Sena was upholding Rajput valour by protesting a film that glorifies Rajput valour -- a small technical hitch caused by not having actually seen it.
The movie, about a mythological character in an old poem, was first eponymously called Padmavati, before all the burning buses caused it to go incognito as Padmaavat.
The Karni Sena issued threats and incitement to violence, with BJP leader Suraj Pal Amu offering Rs 100 million for the head of lead actress Deepika Padukone, and president of the Kshatriya Mahasabha, Gajendra Singh, saying his community will put up Rs 10 million for just her ears and nose.
It destroyed public and private property, blocked highways, burnt vehicles -- including, hilariously, one of its own cars -- and lobbed bricks and stones into school buses filled with terrified children.
The BJP governments in the affected states and at the Centre stood mutely by, disregarding the Supreme Court's direction to allow the film to run and provide the security to enable that.
But even right-wing apologists draw the line at attacking children.
Yet there has been an inexplicable silence from the government.
A few desultory arrests were made. But it was clear to India that the governing BJP was not just unable to control the Karni Sena, but was downright sympathetic to it.
That has been clear for a very long time, with BJP leaders ignoring, or defending, or outright inciting chauvinist violence, lynchings of minorities, and gender oppression.
It's just that now little Hindu children are also in the crosshairs, and grown-up Hindus who voted the BJP in are finally outraged.
One of Janus' faces told the truth in Davos: He who controls data dominates the world.
Back home, its other face is ramming Aadhaar down the throats of Indians, claiming that it's good for them and does not infringe on their freedoms, and denying or ignoring the protests of data security and welfare experts, media outlets, and citizens who have pointed out lapses in design and implementation that range from embarrassing to unConstitutional, to dangerous, to murderous.
The face in Davos told the world that climate change is a danger, and that India sees nature as her mother, to be milked but not destroyed, and that the world should come to India for work with wellness.
Back home, according to a report on Scroll.in, the Central Pollution Control Board quietly postponed the implementation of the environment ministry's own emission control rules, under pressure from the thermal power industry, backed by the power ministry.
Instead of amending the rules publicly, it tried to get the Supreme Court to pass orders extending the deadline by five years, without disclosing that it had already done so.
Meanwhile, citizens continue to suffer in the toxic air of Indian cities.
There is space for many faces and many tongues in this Republic of ours. But it only has one Constitution, and its citizens are vigilant.