Rising levels of intolerance among our politicians – at a time when their actions make them more open to ridicule

For some time now, there is a rising level of intolerance in our society. Actions that were seen as innocent earlier are now vociferously objected to, and there is a sort of mob mentality when it comes to various slights that politicians feel. This was exhibited in the various objections that politicians had when they were referred to adversely, but was most exhibited when an icon was apparently exhibited. So consider the latest controversy over the cartoon in a history textbook issues by NCERT. Cartoons are meant to amuse somebody, but cartoons (atleast the political kind) are not meant to be kind of full of praise, rather they are meant to make people think by using sharp humour. Politicians the world over (in non-dictatorships) have recognized that if you don’t like a cartoon, grin and bear it, else you will have to feel the impact of more cartoons.
So what was in the cartoon ? Well, this was a cartoon created in the year 1949, at a time when India had just become independent, and there was a Constituent Assembly (overseen by Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar) that was creating a new constitution for India (through studies of the best elements of many constitutions of different nations and then debating them). This activity of the constituent assembly was required to happen and to complete in order to start the process of declaring India a republic and vote in the first Government. So, the cartoon was actually lampooning the process, calling it slow and where Nehru was wielding a whip on a snail (on which was sitting BR Ambedkar). Now, when Shankar created this cartoon, there was no furor, and it was accepted by both Nehru and Ambedkar as an expression of humor.

And it was inserted into a history textbook created by NCERT. Over the past many years, there has been an effort to make school textbooks more interesting, through the addition of stuff such as relevant cartoons, which would make the subject more interesting, and also make the students think about the topic at hand. These were all cleared by a committee, comprising of experts at NCERT and in use for many years. And then out politicians got hold of this issue, raising it in Parliament as an insult to the memory of that great icon Ambedkar. Now, Ambedkar had seen the cartoon and did not have issues about it, and then you have the absurd notion of the cartoon being objected to 40 years after its release, on the guise that it would not be right for students, and they might see it as being against a certain community.
So, it was open season on cartoons. Politician after politician objected to the various cartoons in the textbooks, claiming that they would warp the minds of students against politicians (never mind the fact that if you pick up a paper, it is an even chance that there will be some news that will showcase some politician doing something criminal, or some investigation against a politician). And you had the abject notion of the Education Minister, Kapil Sibal, instead of standing up for these educational standards, buckling down and promising to remove all cartoons from textbooks. This was a horrifying site.

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