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The UFO At Rashtrapati Bhavan!

By SHYAM G MENON
June 13, 2024 12:04 IST
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One would have expected Rashtrapati Bhavan and not the Delhi police to settle the Unidentified Feline Object issue.

In its absence, the four legged-visitor spanned in imagined identity, anything from a domestic cat familiar with the palatial surroundings to a swashbuckling Puss in Boots visiting from the outside or indeed a Bagheera from Jungle Book, notes Shyam G Menon.

IMAGE: The cat that apeared is circiled in red. Photograph: Kind courtesy Narendra Modi/YouTube
 

It was a chapter with a twist added to the litany of sightings under the UFO category.

Unlike its flying brethren, this one was an Unidentified Feline Object, walking confidently on all four.

The venue -- Rashtrapati Bhavan's courtyard; as stratospheric in the assembly of very important persons as it can get in India.

IMAGE: Narendra D Modi takes the oath of office as prime minister for the third consecutive term, June 9, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Early June 2024, not long after the third government headed by Narendra D Modi was sworn in, YouTube came alive with footage from the event that showed a cat like-animal walking in the corridor atop the steps immediately behind where the swearing-in ceremony was held.

To be precise, the incident happened when freshly elected Member of Parliament Durga Das Uikey of the Bharatiya Janata Party was being sworn in as a union minister.

Videos since posted on YouTube showed a cat-like animal walking coolly in the distant background.

Some videos showed it walking from right to left and then, back. Not an iota of panic. More like an evening jaunt.

IMAGE: Modi greets President Droupadi Murmu after taking the oath. Photograph: ANI Photo

In the age of marketing, influencing and mileage by doctored images, the veracity of the video stayed a question mark.

A big problem was that most of the videos posted on YouTube highlighted the animal for visibility and in that process of enlarged visual, altered its actual proportion to the physical surroundings.

It left me unable to know for sure what the size of the creature was unless distortion was an intended aim of whoever floated the video.

A slow-motion version of the video was also hard to find. That could have helped the viewer observe more closely the structure and gait of the animal and attempt knowing whether it was just cat or big cat.

Meanwhile, wide-eyed wonder over whether it was a domestic cat or a leopard, grew steadily.

IMAGE: Modi signs the register after taking the oath of office. Photograph: ANI Photo

The leap to leopard in human imagination was understandable for more than speculation over whether the animal may have come from Rashtrapati Bhavan's extended green cover, there was the longstanding association of the Modi government with big cats.

After all this was the political leadership that brought African cheetahs to India and made the country home to the most diverse big cat population in the wild. The iconography for the Made in India campaign features a lion.

A domestic cat wouldn't fit the fashion sense of such an image-conscious political dispensation. No fan of Modi, my mind was easily partial to the lovable domestic cat.

I am also no expert on wildlife and my only encounter with a wild leopard had been once when out on an evening jog in a wooded corner of Uttarakhand.

Further, upon looking closely at the video from the swearing-in, I thought the animal's cocked ears, its overall body dimensions including how long its tail was when compared to the rest of its body, how it carried its tail and the supreme comfort it showed towards its surroundings filled that day with people -- all pointed to a domestic cat.

IMAGE: Modi greets the 10,000-strong crowd after taking the oath. Photograph: ANI Photo

By itself and on any other day the animal may not have captured our imagination. There are household pets at the residences of many heads of State worldwide. So, what's so special about a cat at Rashtrapati Bhavan?

Curiosity however is in the eyes of the beholder and it varies in accordance with circumstances.

Modi's swearing-in that day happened on the back of two divergent imageries. One was of him equaling Jawaharlal Nehru's record of starting three terms as prime minister of India. Modi's fans would have been thrilled by that.

Nothing less than a big cat for intruder and buzz around event, in such imagination. That it made a majestic appearance at the swearing-in and disappeared without causing any trouble, embellishes the narrative of the ruler's claimed divinity.

The other imagery that June evening was of a powerful autocrat humbled by 2024's electoral verdict.

Depending on which school of thought one subscribed to, the poor animal would have assumed hues of a prince among cats or a plebian from the feline universe.

As things turned out, the Delhi police had the final say on the matter. They concluded it was a domestic cat and said so on X.

While that may have laid to rest the debate on whether the animal was a leopard or an ordinary cat, for another set of people with a fertile imagination, it may have been the start of a totally different story.

IMAGE: President Murmu and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar with the newly sworn-in Union council of ministers. Photograph: ANI Photo

As far as I could make out, amidst the speculation around what the mysterious animal really was, there was no official word from Rashtrapati Bhavan on whether it was home to any pets, including household cats (kind of strange -- isn't it? One would have expected Rashtrapati Bhavan and not the Delhi police to settle the issue).

In its absence, the four legged-visitor spanned in imagined identity, anything from a domestic cat familiar with the palatial surroundings to a swashbuckling Puss in Boots visiting from the outside or indeed a Bagheera from Jungle Book.

Wonder what the swearing-in and display of State power must have looked like to a pair of feline eyes ambling in from the kitchen or staff quarters nearby.

And if that was actually an adventurous Indiana Jones of a domestic cat, one which crossed roads and logged miles to find itself at Rashtrapati Bhavan on a day of heavy security, wonder what its experience of dodging commandos and what its perspective of the proceedings in the courtyard may have been.

Quite a terrestrial Nemo (or should I say, Rambo), this little cat -- isn't it?

From atop those steps, it must have taken in the oaths being read out, the hundreds gathered as audience and the security personnel on guard; and said: What's all this fuss about?

Or maybe, as plebian of the feline universe and not a princely leopard, it was a reminder of the 2024 verdict itself -- the unseen and voiceless many and not the super-rich one per cent, matter.

As my friend pointed out, there's also the potential for satirical metaphor resident in that usage of a leopard and its spots.

With the big unsaid risk in coalitionist Modi being whether the autocrat would be comfortable in such a consultative ambiEnce, the question arises: Will the leopard change its spots going ahead?

SEE: The animal spotted at Rashtrapati Bhavan during the swearing in ceremony. Video: ANI

For now, though, thanks to the animal's identity not firmly established to the satisfaction of all, this remains an unidentified feline object story -- the UFO that evaded India's tightest security in VIP land.

Now I understand, why it was the Delhi police that settled the debate around the intruder's identity.

Shyam G Menon is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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