Mahua Moitra’s bag replaced Ranveer Singh’s butt in the meme stakes this week. Which is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether you are a bag or butt fanatic. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fierce attack launched against one of our most articulate MPs for “hiding” her pricey LVMH bag from prying, all-seeing cameras in the House, during a heated debate on “mehngai” (rising costs). I was at a dinner in Pune when the controversy over the bag was peaking. My host looked away dreamily and sighed: “Forget her bag… I really like Mahua… she’s hot.” The other guests were up in arms, especially the hostess who icily corrected her husband with a sharp put down, telling him the issue was much bigger than his crush on Mahua. Really? Was it bigger… or made extra big by people with nothing better to carp about than a lady’s handbag? What is the issue? Do the critics mean lady parliamentarians, especially TMC types, should shun ostentatious displays and leave luxury bags at home when they attend Parliament? Why? It’s the same old sniping that was heard back in the days when Rajiv Gandhi and his Doon School buddies were mocked for wearing Rolex watches and Gucci loafers. Bollocks! We are fine with fake displays of austerity, but roil at accessories that cost a pretty penny. I thought we had left glorifying the hypocritical jhola culture well behind. Clearly not, going by the over-reaction to Ms Moitra’s Rs 1.6-lakh bag.
A few pertinent questions are worth raising here: One: Can Mahua, in her personal capacity, afford to buy such an expensive bag? The answer is “yes”. She was a successful professional (V-P of J.P. Morgan in the UK), with declared assets of Rs 2.64 crores. Question two: Did she deliberately duck and push her bag under the bench? Who knows? The timing being what it was, it does appear as if she became aware of being on camera and decided to keep the bag out of view. Good on her! Smart woman! She may have seen the irony of her luxury bag being prominently in the frame, when her colleague Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar was talking about the “mehngai”. Give her marks for her presence of mind and agility.
The problem is not Mahua’s bag or Ranveer’s butt. It is our own double standards and excessive guilt. We can neither handle prosperity, nor nudity. And obsess over both.
These sort of distractions take away our attention from far more critical issues, like the rupee weakening by 44 paise this week to close at 79.16/$ over concerns of a widening trade deficit (a record $31 billion in July 2022). While the RBI’s monetary policy committee’s recommendations have fiscal market watchers on tenterhooks, here we are haranguing a woman over her choice of handbag. And look -- there’s a belligerent Smriti Irani screaming herself hoarse in Parliament, eyes blazing, index finger wagging – “Sonia Gandhi maafi mango…” during the “Rashtrapatni” debacle… hoping nobody would go deeper into her own little hiccup in Goa, which was deftly sorted out for Ms Irani by the Delhi high court. So sweet of the judges, na? Sach muchh such Silly Souls, all those going after the Union minister and her daughter Zoish.
The biggest bogey in India right now aren’t the nastiest netas in the land but their attack dogs -- the ED. Remember that movie The Russians are coming… the Russians are coming…? Well, we should make our own version -- The ED is coming… the ED is coming…! From tycoons to politicians, it is the ED which is giving people sleepless night. Nobody wept for Sanjay Raut or Partha Chatterjee when they were arrested and marched off to cool their heels wherever they were taken. Raut was the snarling Rottweiler of the Shiv Sena, and even a section of loyal Sainiks celebrated seeing Raut cut down to size. No matter what the more political argument is (BJP’s eventual goal to grab the BMC coffers and finish off the Shiv Sena), nobody was shedding tears for the jailed Raut. Ditto for Partha Chatterjee -- pity the woman who hurled her chappal at him, and missed the mark. But reports of a bevy of obliging handmaidens wiping the sweat off Partha’s brow made most of us feel very ill, indeed.
Sonia Gandhi is not having the best time, either. But then, any surprises in the manner in which she’s being treated? One wonders what took them so long? “Under siege’’, screamed Congress Party loyalists as the police barricaded the roads outside the Congress headquarters and the residences of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. A deserted Akbar Road (name change coming up??) and Tughlaq Lane alerted citizens that something major was afoot. The pictures of a partially padlocked Herald House by the ED and leaks about Sonia being questioned for 11 hours, etc, sounded more like a strategy to scare the hell out of others – that is, virtually anybody who is not playing ball with the big guys.
This is what we’ll be seeing much more of in the days and months to come. As a run-up to the celebrations (of India’s 75 years of Independence), citizens have been asked to fly the flag from their homes (“Har Ghar Tiranga”) -- lovely concept. Why not? I have been bombarded with forwards urging me to change my DP to a tiranga that also incorporates the letter of the alphabet representing my name. These are fine, inspiring gestures -- agreed! But somehow hollow and a bit too “token” for them to be anything more than a show of shallow pseudo-patriotism.
Expect more and more disruptions in the House, with Opposition members rushing to the Well to protest. None of this is sounding particularly positive or uplifting. Dignity and democracy used to be inter-linked concepts in the distant past. Today, unless parliamentarians stoop to playing to the gallery, they feel they’re irrelevant. Every trick in the book is being used to get eyeballs and go viral. Whichever way one looks at this phenomenon… it is still about garnering publicity at any cost. Showbiz by any other name is still showbiz. Now all we need is a parliamentarian posing in the buff to make a statement (“hamam mein sab nangey hotey hai”) and giving Ranveer Singh a run for his money… Ranveer Singh, you had better watch out -- now you have competition!