Hello, Sir Humphrey

And to that end, I recommend that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we’ll be in the position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions.

Remember that classic stall by Sir Humphrey Appleby, from the ‘Doing the Honours’ episode of Yes Minister? Now read the one below: (Emphasis added):

It is also gathered that efforts will now be made to prepare a draft action plan examining all possibilities of bringing back the famed diamond back to India from the UK museum.

That’s from a news story about the government’s ‘determination’ to bring back the Kohinoor. All that is missing is the laugh track.

The story thus far: A busybody that goes by the grandiose name of the All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front filed a PIL, naming sundry countries and governments as parties, demanding that the Kohinoor be brought back to India. (There is concurrently a petition being heard in the Lahore High Court, demanding that the diamond be brought back to Pakistan).

The court couched its ‘WTF?’ in words more suited for polite company:

“Everybody is claiming the Kohinoor. How many countries are claiming Kohinoor? Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and even South Africa. Somebody here is also asking for the Kohinoor. Do you know about it,” the bench asked the Solicitor General.

Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, ventriloquising the stand of the Federal ministry for culture (in passing, why do we even have a ‘ministry’ for ‘culture’?), told the court that under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972, there is no provision for reclaiming the diamond, which was gifted to the British way back in 1849.

Cue shitstorm. Politicians of various stripes, sensing a handy stick to beat up the government with, got into the act. Digvijaya Singh — who, poor fellow, has been a bit subdued of late — promptly took issue. As did the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee, which now claims the Kohinoor belongs to the Sikh community. And opinion pieces excoriating the government began to surface, including one that called the government ‘spineless’.

All of that, in turn, leads to the Economic Times article cited above — an article that is risible for so many reasons.

Pro tip: When you read words such as ‘Highly reliable sources told X…’ or variants thereof, be sure someone with an axe to grind planted the story.

In this particular instance, the story is slanted to show that Narendra Modi is a strong sort of fellow — and that the confusion got resolved, as all confusions will, once he stepped in and triggered ‘marathon meetings’.

The outcome of that ‘marathon’? The government will “make efforts’ to “prepare a draft” to “examine the possibilities”…

Pro Tip 2: Don’t tell people you will “make efforts” to prepare a draft — unless you are referring to preliminary steps such as booting up the computer, opening a Word doc, giving it a file name, etc.

Obviously, this is a stall. The government knows public memory is short, and that in 24 hours time, maybe less, the busybodies will find something else to outrage about.

And oh yes, since no political ‘gotcha’ is too trivial to be ignored, the ruling party will see if it can’t grab the stick out of opposition hands, and do some beating up on its own account.

It is expected that the Modi government will take up the issue strongly and generate political heat on the issue with BJP expected to raise questions about the failure of the Congress and particularly the first PM Jawahar Lal Nehru to make any effort in this direction.

This is what politics and governance in this country has come to:

“It is all your fault!”

“No, it’s all yours!’

“No, yours!

“No, your grandfather’s!”

“Yo’ momma!”

Try this thought experiment: Before this latest non-issue blew up as accompaniment to the summer vacation of William and Kate, when was the last time you thought of the Kohinoor? Way back when you were in school, maybe, and the teacher rabbitted on about the thing while you were busy pulling the pigtails of the girl in front?

PostScript: Where are Gandhi’s glasses now, does anyone know? Came across any news stories about how, following the return of those ‘iconic’ items, there was a nationalist surge of people going on pilgrimage to view those relics?



2 thoughts on “Hello, Sir Humphrey

  1. Ok, an addendum. That Wire article seems to be totally inept. ‘Ranjit Singh lost the 1849 war with the British’????? How? Since he happened to have died in 1839? I can only snort…. And that rubbish about Samyantaka (Shyamanthaka) is simply beyond contempt. Idiotic. And in the end I am saddened to see a legend like Harbans Mukhia saying the things he said that contributed to the headlines for that article. This revisionist nonsense has to stop somewhere. Note how our cities have changed their names, most often ending up with absurdities. Even the streets and landmarks. This kind of nationalism is not just meaningless but dangerous. I completely agree with Sunil Kumar, at the end of the article.

  2. Alas, no girls in front, though we had to make do with the wimps and wusses before us. All Boys’ School, the tragedy…. the horror, the horror….!!

    But you know, this is something that amuses me no end. The Bhakt log must have been aghast with the stand they took. Wonder how many fiery nationalist and nationalized hearts broke that day. I was amused and bemused. Is there such a thing as a claim against treasure that was looted when the nation itself did not exist? The Search for the Peacock Throne from Persia, next? And let us be clear about one thing, Ranjit Singh did not actually gift it to the Queen. His will was not executed and by default the British took it away. So what? I simply don’t see the point of all this. And in any case, it is safer there than here, I suppose. One day, it just might get “lost” if it is brought here. Only for Adani or Ambani to discover it underground/underwater while exploring for oil, some day, serendipitously. Down with Nehru! For not solving this problem either 😀

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