In an ideal democracy, politics and humour should go hand in hand. When the political leadership in the country was not able to digest and withstand humour during the Emergency in 1975, Shankar’s Weekly, the only political cartoon magazine run by father of political cartooning in India, Shankar Pillai, closed the magazine with a farewell editorial. This editorial summed up all and it was even introduced as part of the NCERT syllabus.
Dictatorships cannot afford laughter because people may laugh at the dictator and that wouldn’t do. In all the years of Hitler, there never was a good comedy, not a good cartoon, not a parody, or a spoof. From this point, the world and sadly enough India have become grimmer
Shankar wrote, “In our first editorial we made the point that our function was to make our readers laugh – at the world, at pompous leaders, at humbug, at foibles, at ourselves. But, what are the people who have a developed sense of humour? It is a people with a certain civilised norms of behaviour, where there is tolerance and a dash of compassion. “Dictatorships cannot afford laughter because people may laugh at the dictator and that wouldn’t do.
In all the years of Hitler, there never was a good comedy, not a good cartoon, not a parody, or a spoof. From this point, the world and sadly enough India have become grimmer. “Humour, whenever it is there, is encapsuled. Language itself has become functional, each profession developing its own jargon. Outside of the society of brother-cartoonists, an economist is a stranger, floundering in uncharted territory, uncertain of himself, fearful of non-economic language.“It is the same for lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists, and such-like.”
The nation seems to have forgotten what Shankar said and we have collectively lost our sense of humour. Politicians of the day did not know from Adam what humour is. Take the latest example. When former Supreme Court judge Markandeya Katju, known for raking up controversies, spoke of offering Kashmir to Pakistan on condition that it should take Bihar too, albeit in a lighter vein, the remark drew sharp criticism from Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Nitish ridiculed Justice Katju and advised him (Katju) not to become ‘Mai-Baap’ (guardian) of the State. Katju’s post on Facebook, clubbing Bihar with Jammu and Kashmir, triggered sharp reactions, with some leaders demanding that he should be tried under the sedition law. “We offer you Kashmir, but you should take Bihar also,” Katju had said in one of his Facebook posts. “I have just received authoritative information from the Government of Pakistan.
They have point blank refused the offer of taking Kashmir along with Bihar, and they have profusely apologised forever asking for Kashmir at all and have promised never to ask for it again. Evidently the idea of getting Bihar too has horrified them out of their wits,” he wrote. Katju further commented, “Once Firaq Gorakhpuri, my English teacher in Allahabad University, said to me ‘Hindustan ko khatra Pakistan se nahin hai, Bihar se hai’.”
Without naming Katju, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made a strong remark on him.“Ghar baithe ‘mai-baap’ ban rahe hai Bihar kaa…(trying to become guardian of Bihar while sitting at home),”Kumar said in his speech here, after launching two of his seven resolves of providing drinking water and toilet to every household. “A few people are gripped with disease of getting printed in newspapers,” he said in an apparent retort to Katju’s remarks.
The Chief Minister spoke in detail about the glorious history of Bihar, which is the land of Lord Buddha, Lord Mahavira, Chanakya and Aryabhatt who invented ‘zero’, among others. “Patliputra, the ancient name of present Patna, used to be capital of the Magadh Empire, whose territory extended to the entire country,” he said. Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav also took strong exception to Katju’s comment saying, Bihar may be lacking in resources, but it did not give Katju a free hand to humiliate the State.
“Bihar has always shown the way to the country in good and bad times,” said the son of RJD chief Lalu Prasad. JD (U) general secretary K C Tyagi and senior party leader Shyam Rajak sought trial of Katju under the sedition law. Madhepura MP and Janadhikar Party leader Pappu Yadav also condemned Katju’s comments and sought public apology from him. Faced with a barrage of protests, Katju sought to backtrack and wrote on Facebook “I was only joking about Bihar.”
But not many remember, this joke was originally from the one and only Piloo Mody, who incidentally was then representing the Godhra Lok Sabha constituency. Known for his quick wit and repartee, Piloo Mody in 1967 said, “If Pakistan wants Kashmir they have to take West Bengal also!” But no one from West Bengal or Bhadralok Bengalis have ever reacted. Do we still have a sense of humour in us?
Ironically, Shiv Sena’s former chief Bal Thackeray, despite being a cartoonist himself, never tolerated contrarian opinions or cartoons. Shiv Sena activists used to attack publications at the drop of a hat. On Tuesday, in a kind of poetic justice, stones were pelted at a printing press of Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamna in Navi Mumbai. Police suspect that the attack was in reaction to an ‘offending’ cartoon on Maratha agitation which was published in the newspaper.