Somewhere in heaven, founding figures of the Indian Republic and sundry politicians are looking down on another Republic Day, all strolling in the heavenly equivalent of Sunder Nursery.
Subhas Chandra Bose is dreamily staring into space. Jawahar taps him on the shoulder. “Happy 125th, Subhas. Heard you are the man of the moment: Both Modi and Mamata want to claim you.”
Subhas, wistfully: “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. For decades they refused to admit I was dead. Now they quarrel over my resurrection.”
Bhimrao: “That’s what happens when they worship you, buddy. Is there any god, ever, who we have not quarrelled over? At least they are not killing in your name. I hate to admit it, but these days I feel sorry for poor Mohandas. Poor guy keeps singing, ‘Raghupati Raghav…..’ Meanwhile, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ becomes a war chant. Hope he is not condemned to eternal torment.”
Savarkar: “Come on, Bhim, you exaggerate.”
Bhimrao: “Look, I don’t have time for this. There are other important things on my mind.”
Savarkar: “Such as?”
Bhimrao: “The Constitution”
Savarkar: “Yes, I forgot, your Secular Bible. Don’t worry, they still celebrate Republic Day. And besides, everyone loves you.”
Savarkar sees Rabindranath walking by. With a mischievous smile, says: “Hey Rabindranath. You gave everyone nice titles. You called Mohan ‘Mahatma’, Subhas ‘Deshpriya’. How come you did not give Bhimrao one?”
Uncomfortable silence for two long seconds.
Hansa Mehta chimes in: “Because we all recognised Bhim is a democrat, above honorifics.”
Jawahar smiles: “Nice save”.
Bhimrao, irritably: “I have no patience for these legacy wars”.
Jawahar: “I agree. Look we all had our differences, our individual style and outlook. And we argued with each other. But these days they make it sound like I was Sardar’s or Subhas’s mortal enemy! So Bhim, you were saying about the Constitution…”
Bhimrao: “Ah yes, does it even exist anymore? I mean we always cut a few corners here and there; even Jawahar sinned occasionally. But I don’t recognise our Constitution anymore”.
Savarkar: “Again, you exaggerate, my friend. We still have constitutional government. Scholars still publish big tomes on the Constitution. I get the sense you are trying to deny the legitimacy of the present government.”
Bhimrao: “I agree we have popular government. But your Constitution and mine must be very different. I thought we created a Constitution that would protect civil liberties, allocate a division of labour between Centre and state, parliamentary procedure would have sanctity, checks and balances would operate, and there would be oversight over untrammelled executive power. I thought we would keep God and Identity out of the Constitution. Didn’t we, Jawahar? So what are we celebrating on Republic Day? Ethnic Majoritarianism and Authoritarianism?”
Jawahar: “Anything I say is poison, so keep me out of it”.
Tagore (smiles): “Jawahar, if that is the case, maybe you should praise government more. No one listens to your poor great grandson’s attack on government. But if you start praising the government, who knows, maybe BJP supporters will have to abandon it”.
Savarkar: “Very funny. Snarkiness is all that you liberal ‘religion of humanity’ types have left by way of a political strategy.”
Piloo Mody, humming a new rap: “If all you got is joke plus woke, you will be politically broke.”
Savarkar: “Come on, guys. You are just refusing to acknowledge India on the march. A strong, selfless leader who will make India Vishwaguru. A responsible great power. Vaccine provider to the world. At the forefront of climate change. Courted by every power in the world. Housing, gas, sanitation, water, electricity for all. Self-confident about its Civilisation. About its Leader. Everyday a new mission. A new Republic rises. A new India is being constituted. Long live Republic Day”.
Suddenly, a chorus of interventions all at once. Difficult to hear who is speaking. Phrases ring out: “Malnutrition”, “Slow Growth”, “Crony Capitalism”, “Censorship”, “China is occupying our land”, “Inequality”, “Communalism”, “Corruption”, “Autocracy”, “No Supreme Court”, “Kashmir”, “Collapsing Institutions”, “Love Jihad”. Chaos ensues for a few minutes.
As the din quietens, Tagore interjects, “About civilisation, I think it is in crisis.”
Jawahar: “Savarkar, who is included in civilisation?”
Savarkar: “I have always said a Hindu is a natural patriot. I don’t need to say anything more”.
Subhas: “So is it Republic Rising or Republic Falling?”
Piloo Mody: “Depends on whether you ask Central Government or Maharashtra Government.” Laughs.
Jawahar: “Not THAT Republic”.
Piloo Mody: “Is there another one?”
Bhimrao: “Let us get serious. This Constitution thing bothers me. What ritual are we enacting on 26th January?”
Tagore: “I don’t know if Savarkar is right. But even if the good stuff he says is happening, I worry. You may see a large bucket of water in front of you, but even if there are a few drops of poison in it, the whole thing becomes useless.”
Hansa Mehta: “That is right. I am reminded again of the time we grew up and fought together in the 1920s and ’30s. All of you seem to have forgotten. Maybe it is because all of you got statues all over the place. That was a new Renaissance we were creating, a new India, self-confident, unafraid, and forward looking. But a few drops of poison and our dreams shattered. This land was forever fractured and poor Bapu has still not recovered. It seems deja vu to me”.
Mohandas, finally breaking his silence: “What is this sound I hear?”
Bhimrao: “The rumbling of tractors. What is this about? It looks like the farmers are marching to Delhi. A new parade”.
Tagore: “Will this help the Republic?”
Someone: “We don’t know yet. But the Great Leader seems shaken.”
Savarkar: “Shaken but not stirred yet”.
Jawahar: “Let us go and watch. Mohandas, are you coming?”
Mohandas: “I am always watching the poor and the peasants. It is you who needs the rumble of tractors.”
As they are descending to earth to watch the new spectacle on Republic Day, Piloo Mody turns to Savarkar: “You said we are now a self-confident Leader and a self-confident Civilisation. Doesn’t seem that way. Which self-confident Leader or Civilisation makes love a crime? Perhaps you meant self-important.”
Savarkar: “Self-confident or self-important? Is there a difference?”
Piloo Mody: “Therein might hang a tale”.
This article first appeared in the print edition on January 26, 2021 under the title ‘The R-Day walk in heaven’. The writer is contributing editor at The Indian Express