WHAT LIES BENEATH – A MOCK EPIC IN FIVE ACTS PDF Print E-mail

I never thought I would live to see the day The Rape of the Lock would be bettered. How wrong I was! Renuka Chowdry, Mani Shankar Iyer, Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and Sushma Swaraj, singly and collectively out-performed Pope’s heroine. This was better than anything Pope had written; this was live, and the events of the last two days hovered between the burlesque and the farce, between melodrama and spoof. The best thing about this mock-epic was that the leading dramatis personae donned dual roles and also provided the comic relief. Even as I am writing this, and today is the 19th of May, the bathos is being stretched even thinner. Sonia’s coterie it seems, does not want the melodrama to reach the final act – the denouement. The CWC, led by the chief Lady-in-waiting, Ambika Soni declared to all those who were watching that she, Natwar Singh, and Ahmed Patel had resigned as members of the CWC and intended to meet Sonia Gandhi along with other psycophants to pressure her to step back from her decision not to be Prime Minister. News just coming in tells us that the AICC has submitted its resignation too and as a fitting finale to this orgy of maudlin sentiments, all newly elected Congress MPs have also threatened to resign. The BJP led NDA may be back in power sooner than even they had imagined in their wildest dreams. It would seem that these Congress worthies intend to keep the truth behind Lady Macbeth’s decision not to be PM away from the people.

The run-up to the climax in this Cheltenham tragedy began when Sonia Gandhi, on the 13th of May, indicated her willingness to become the Prime Minister. Sushma Swaraj announced her decision to resign from the Rajya Sabha. But this was simply not enough to grab media headlines. So she announced her decision to shave her head and don the saffron. She intended to do a Uma Bharti. Thus challenged, can Uma be lagging behind? She dramatically threw her resignation as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh on poor Venkaiah’s face. These gestures of course to not match the depth and length of the Congress melodrama. Now had all BJP, no, all NDA MPs declared their intention to shave their heads and don the saffron, we would really have something. After all what the NDA MPs and Ministers lacked in foresight and action when they were in power to stop Sonia from becoming PM any time in the future, they are obliged to make up in drama or better still, in melodrama. A little comic interlude was provided by Govindacharya, not to be seen in public life for the last three years, suddenly emerging from his cave and declaring his intention to launch a nation-wide ‘andolan’. The man loves high-sounding Hindi words, preferably alliterative. Give him a day or two and he will coin something rhythmic to chime with ‘andolan’. As it turns out, now that Lady Macbeth has been stopped in her tracks, he may not have to.

But the climax of the melodrama in five acts was enacted at 10 Janpath on May 17th, where anxious nail-biting, tense looking Congress MPs and allies were waiting, as eagerly as Christians for the Second Coming, for Sonia Gandhi to appear before them and tell them that they were all wrong. And his face all wrinkled up in palpable tension, his voice shaking with indignation at the BJP’s continuing campaign against Lady Macbeth’s foreign origin, his hands shaking nervously at the prospect that seemed increasingly likely, Rajdeep Sardesai, performing live for the messianic NDTV was chewing on his nails murmuring, “will she, won’t she, will she…” The tension was palpable because Lady Macbeth was closeted with her ‘closest confidantes’ and her children. What could she be discussing, wondered Rajdeep. Pointing dramatically to a group of ranting hangers-on outside 10 Janpath, Rajdeep, with tears brimming in his eyes announced, “Look at them, for them there is no life beyond Sonia Gandhi. This is Congress culture”, he declared proudly. “They are all umblically tied to the first family”.

He had chewed up all his finger nails by then and had just started on his toes when Pranab Mukherji and Manmohan Singh appeared on stage before the ready-for-anything audience and read out the letter sent to Sonia Gandhi by the President of India. To paraphrase the President’s letter, he had asked Sonia, politely, to present herself at the Rashtrapati Bhavan pronto on the 17th evening itself or any time on the 18th ‘for discussions’. Here is the letter said Pranab Mukherji and brandished the letter for all the world to see. “There is no scope for any rumour”, announced Dr.Manmohan Singh. The charade had begun. The truth could never be told. But Rajdeep was satisfied, and so was all NDTV, the other channels politely accepted the letter at face value, the allies and Congress MPs still waiting for the Second Coming, heaved a sigh of relief and went back to composing their individual quotas of groveling praise and eulogies in Sonia’s name. You never knbow when they may be needed to perform. As it turned out, they had to pull out their compositions the very next day. The media collectively interpreted the letter to mean THE INVITATION to form the government. But Manmohan Singh, Lady Macbeth herself and a few others in the coterie knew the truth. Sonia had been stopped in her tracks from waltzing her way to the ramparts of Red Fort on the 15of August.

The leader of the largest single party, the leader of pre-poll coalition with the largest tally of seats is not asked to come for discussions by the President, four days after the results are declared. The President, as a matter of well established precedents, invites the leader of the largest party or coalition to form the government. It was clear to any discerning political observer that something was definitely fishy in the State of Denmark. Lady Macbeth does indeed present herself before the President accompanied by Manmohan Singh. We will never know what transpired between His Excellency the President and Sonia Gandhi but we can all wallow in speculations. But something did happen, that’s for sure. By noon on the 18th of May, Lady Macbeth announces her decision not to become the Prime Minister. The climax in the melodrama begins to acquire momentum and garish colours. The truth is still not told or acknowledged. The allies are ‘shocked, appalled, anguished, deeply surprised’. Sonia metamorphoses into Lady Macbeth again. She presides over the most dampening (or is it damp I mean), act in the mock-epic so far. In the Central Hall of our August Parliament, in full view of the media, Congress men and women grovel, crawl, plead, beseech, beg and fawn. Lady Macbeth had stage-managed the melodrama for Italy, for her home town. Promptly the next day, some news paper in her home town carries the screaming headline – Sonia Maino Regina d’Ella India or something to the effect. The lady was seated at a table watching all the crying, ranting and moaning with an impassive face. Look, she seemed to be saying, look at these brown natives, this is how they were colonised in the past, this is how I have enslaved them now.

Barkha Dutt, appropriately dressed for the occasion, face without make-up, hair plastered to her scalp, in funereal dark clothes, with a face botchy with grief told the nation about Sonia’s ultimate sacrifice. One idiot in Doordarshan told us all, about the big sacrifice Lady Macbeth had made when she opted out of the PM’s chair. After Sri Rama, the raving idiot said, we now have Sonia ji. Another idiot, not to be outdone declared that after Mahatma Gandhi, it was Sonia Gandhi who had made the supreme sacrifice of giving up political power. I had by then dampened more than twenty handkerchiefs and the tears were still pouring down my face. The Cheltenham tragedy had not been played out in full. Deepak Chaurasia, his voice soaked in sympathy interviewed the two Maino children. Little Lady Macbeth lectured to us all: what my mother did was not in keeping with what is normal to Indian politics, it was in keeping with Indian culture. The culture of ‘seva’. Oh larrrttt! My heart broke then.

We began the critical appreciation of this mock epic with what happened thereafter. The last act has begun, the denouement is in progress. Sonia Gandhi, still wearing a beatific smile, offers Dr. Manmohan Singh in her stead as Prime Minister. The hangers-on outside 10 Janpath who, according to Rajdeep Sardesai, had no life beyond Sonia Gandhi have happily dispersed for their daily quota of gol gappas and ice cream, Sushma gets to keep her tresses, Uma is off to meet Venkaiah and get back her resignation before the chair is offered to some one else, Govindacharya has gone back to his caves and Rajdeep Sardesai is back to performing his normal role – offensive, upstart journalist. NDTV continues hopefully with its messianic faith in Lady Macbeth. The allies have all climbed down from their high horses. They are now salivating at the prospect of what is to come. So any one is OK they are now saying. For us, there is life beyond Sonia Gandhi, is their mesasage to Rajdeep Sardesai. And nationalist Hindus have gone back to sleep until the next andolan. The truth of what lies beneath Sonia Gandhi’s latest decision may never be told. But we can all wait for the rumours and whispers to begin. Indeed, they have already begun doing their rounds.

Radha Rajan
19th May, 2004.