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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 10 New Delhi, February 22, 2020

Building a Wall to Greet Trum

Friday 28 February 2020, by Badri Raina

Bernard Shaw once quipped, “If you would learn about Finance Capital, do not read Das Kapital, read Little Dorrit.”

In that path-breaking novel by Charles Dickens, a man called Podsnap rises to be a very rich man from humble origins.

Then, as he sits down to dinner alone on a long long table, he puts up a wall-like arm to obstruct anyone who brings him bad news of any kind.

This gesture has since come to be christened “Podsnappery”. To wit, what you do not see does not exist.

As rich man Trump is due to visit Ahmedabad end of this month, there is likely to be an offensive slum area on his route from the airport.

Now, slums hardly bode well for India’s image, considering we are due to be a five trillion dollar economy shortly. Do not all current economic indices point that way?

Thus, remembering that Mister Trump is fond of building walls anyway, the municipal authorities in Ahmedabad have stuck a brilliant idea: build a wall to hide the slum from Trump’s parvenu view.

Delighted as he would be at the sight of a wall, the occasion would also furnish a fine example of good governance: in a country where the one per cent own some seventy per cent of national wealth, it cannot be any aspect of good governance to eradicate poverty. The next best therefore is to hide the poor, at least from snooty foreign gaze.

And should the inquisitive Trump still manage to catch a glimpse of the reality behind the image, well Mister Modi can always spin him some ancient tale about the illusory nature of what we see, not that Mister Trump is a stranger to dirt of sundry kinds.

Mister Trump has made the announcement that he is likely to receive a seven million-strong reception in Ahmedabad enroute from the airport to what he has called the “event”. Well, why not. We do have lots of people in Gujarat who appreciate a rich man when they see one.

Alas that Mister Trump may not have available the sort of diaspora that the Indian Prime Minister unfailingly finds ready and waiting when he travels to America. It is to be hoped that this shaming lacunae in Indo-American relations does not prompt the often vindictive Trump to go into a sulk and order the expulsion of Indians from America. After all, he can always make the argument that his Indian counterpart is also scion of a politics that looks with disfavour on immigrants, no? Except, of course, of a kindred kind, as has been made explicit by the Citizenship Amendment Act,

As a Kashmiri I have read in many poems that say that a narcissus loves only a narcissus.

On that score, at least, Trump is likely to find himself in good hands, reason why perhaps he has no need to visit the monument of love at Agra, to which all other less fortunate and more lonely rulers routinely pay obeisance. Mister Trump loves himself enough to obviate that need and custom. In any event, what comfort can a monument left behind by a Muslim ruler bring to an enlightened evangelical capitalist tycoon.

Some may ask as to how the two mirroring ideologies of “America first” and “Bharat first” can find a common ground of parity, since two entities cannot be first at one and the same time.

We think this conundrum will be best sorted out by resorting to the wisdom of ancient texts and of Chanakya’s neeti. After all, the world depends on the collective wisdom and coalescing visions of two of the greatest thinkers of modern times.

There is alas a caveat: Mister Trump has made a public statement to the effect that he does not expect to sign any big deal with India before the next Presidentiial election in America, and that “India treats us very badly.”

Clearly, Mister Modi may have to ponder how the seven million expectant Gujaratis may frown upon this “no deal” impertinence on behalf of the visiting dignatory.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

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